NHS trusts across England are to receive £300 million to upgrade their facilities amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus during winter, Boris Johnson has announced.
The Prime Minister said the additional cash would enable hospitals to maintain essential services and reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection during the coming months.
The funding comes from a £1.5 billion capital building fund for the NHS announced by Johnson in June.
Officials said the projects would all be completed by the start of 2021 so that hospitals would benefit from the upgrades during the peak months of winter.
Fears of a second wave of coronavirus have been mounting in recent weeks, with the UK recording more than 1,000 cases in a single day for the first time since June on Sunday.
The World Health Organization said today they expected global cases to hit 20 million this week, with the death toll rising over 750,000.
In all, 117 trusts will benefit from the funding which could be used by hospitals to increase their A&E capacity, with more treatment cubicles and expanded waiting areas to ease overcrowding and improve infection control.
It could also enable hospitals to increase the provision of same-day emergency care and improve patient flows to help them to better respond to winter pressures and the risks of fresh coronavirus outbreaks.
Mr Johnson said: “We continue to deliver on our promise to build back better and faster, with £300 million allocated today for NHS trusts to upgrade their facilities and improve A&E capacity.
“These upgrades will help our fantastic NHS prepare for the winter months, helping them to deliver essential services and reduce the risk of coronavirus infections.”
It comes on top of a £3bn cash injection for the NHS in England – with extra funding also for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – announced last month to help it to cope with the expected winter pressures.
That funding has been earmarked to enable the NHS to continue to use the extra hospital capacity acquired from the private sector, maintain the Nightingale hospitals until the end of March, and expand flu vaccinations.
The PM said it was essential that people who needed emergency treatment during the winter should attend hospital, confident that they will not become infected with the virus.
He said: “Thanks to the hard work and tireless efforts of NHS staff throughout the pandemic, our A&Es have remained open for the public.
“It’s vital that those who need emergency treatment this winter access it, and for those who remain concerned about visiting hospitals, let me assure you that the NHS has measures in place to keep people safe.”
Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said that while any additional funding was helpful, there were limits to what this could achieve.
He added: “We know our units involved in acute and urgent care, whether they be emergency departments (EDs) or our acute medical units and surgical assessment units, are all anxious about how they can see patients and keep them ‘Covid secure’.
“This funding seems earmarked for the EDs but that will not help the others and we know that up to 40% of those people who need an acute medical bed do not actually enter the hospital via the ED.
“It is imperative that any work done in the EDs must not disadvantage these people when it comes to acute care.”
Dr Scriven added: “The money is welcome but how do we think we can actually implement what would be building works in existing units whilst remaining safe and efficient – all before any rise in either Covid or non-Covid patients which, if like last winter, may start before the end of October.”