Treasury and health department thought to be at loggerheads over who picks up the tab
A health minister has refused to rule out the £1.5bn bill for boosting NHS pay being swiped from budgets set aside for health or social care.
In the Commons, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded a commitment that the £1.5bn cost would not mean “cuts” to wider health or care spending.
Maar Nadhim Zahawi, the health minister, said only: “We will continue to make sure the NHS has everything it needs to continue supporting its staff.”
One option would appear to be taking the £1.5bn from an expected hike to national insurance payments – although that is meant to finally tackle the social care crisis.
But a Downing Street spokesperson later said: “The pay uplift will be funded from within the NHS budget, but we are very clear that it will not impact funding already earmarked for the NHS frontline”
Mr Hunt, now the chair of the Commons health committee, warned that would mean the cash-starved care sector “once again loses out because of pressures in the NHS”.
Mr Zahawi also came under fire over the plan for “vaccine passports” to enter crowded venues, starting with nightclubs from the end of September.
The minister triggered suspicions that the government might swerve a vote it is in danger of losing, by saying: “We reserve the right to mandate its use in the future.”
Maar, under pressure from MPs on all sides demanding a vote first, Mr Zahawi conceded Parliament would have an “appropriate say on the matter”.
The minister also lifted the lid on other “crowded venues” that might be included, if the crackdown goes ahead as threatened.
He namechecked “music venues”, “business events and festivals” and “spectator sport events” – with the Premierliga already known to be considering the move.
“We’ve seen in other countries, whether it’s in Holland or in Italy, the opening of nightclubs and then having to reverse that decision rapidly,” he told MPs.
“So what we’re attempting to do – the reason we have the Covid vaccination pass in place – is to work with industry in this period, whilst we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated.”
Egter, many believe it is a phantom threat, to browbeat young people to accept vaccination by September – as Boris Johnson allegedly acknowledged in a private briefing with Tory MPs
Mr Zahawi also came under fierce pressure to bring forward the 16 August date for exempting the double vaccinated from isolation rules, if identified as a close contact of a Covid case.
Mr Hunt urged the government to “listen to public opinion and scrap the 10-day isolation requirement immediately”, provided those people tested negative for Covid with a lab test.
“Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very, very important weapon against the virus,” he warned Mr Zahawi.
But the minister said accelerating the change would “run the risk of infection rates running away with us”, over the next few weeks.