The bosses of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) have pledged to start cutting patient care if Chancellor Rishi Sunak fails to allocate £8 billion ($11 billion) for the NHS in order to cover extra COVID-19 costs, The Times reports.
They told the newspaper that Sunak seems to be trying to break his promise to tackle the costs as he looks to pay for the coronavirus pandemic out of normal NHS spending pots.
The chiefs warned that patients already on record waiting lists will most likely face even more delays because of the Treasury's toughened position on NHS spending. Right now, there are 4.5 million people on NHS waiting lists, including 224,000 who have been waiting longer than a year.
Hospital group NHS Providers, in turn, accused Sunak of "robbing NHS budgets", referring to his refusal to meet the full cost of treating the 8,021 COVID-19 patients who are currently in hospitals.
The group's chief executive Chris Hopson was cited by The Times as saying that they are worried that "the chancellor and the prime minister are going to renege on their commitment to cover all the NHS's COVID-19 costs".
"That's the clear signal sent by the decision to drop the agreed assumption of a 2.1 percent pay rise for NHS staff", Hopson argued.
He added that ministers were "clearly now looking for other ways to meet those costs, including robbing mainstream NHS budgets", urging Sunak to extend support at least to September. Hopson warned that if support was not agreed upon, hospitals would have to cut services as of 1 April.
"The absolute worst-case scenario is that the government refuses to cover any extra COVID costs next [financial] year. That would leave the NHS with an unthinkable £7 billion-£8 billion gap for the first half of next year", the chief executive said.
The remarks come as UK unions prepare for a strike over nurses' pay increases being limited to one percent.
"The proposal of a 1% pay offer, not announced from the dispatch box but smuggled out quietly in the days afterwards, fails the test of both honesty and fails to provide staff who have been on the very frontline of the pandemic the fair pay deal they need", The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, and Unison pointed out in a joint letter last week.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for his part, said that such a small increase comes from the assessment of "what's affordable as a nation" in the post-coronavirus crisis economy.
He added that he was "very pleased" NHS staff had been excluded from a wider public sector pay freeze, arguing that he had secured a good deal for them.