The NHS will receive a £200m boost from the government ahead of the busiest months of the year for them.
The winter resilience fund is aimed at supporting the health service so it can attend to patients as quickly as possible amid record waiting lists.
Last month, NHS England said 7.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of June – the highest number since records began in August 2007.
The additional money will help hospitals keep up with pre-planned surgeries and operations to cut down the list, according to officials.
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NHS treatment list at record high
Both the government and NHS England set an ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April this year.
However, that excluded exceptionally complex cases or where patients chose to wait longer.
Winter is a hectic time for the NHS with COVID, flu, and respiratory illnesses common during the season, with some health commentators saying last winter was one of the worst on record for the health service.
They welcomed the extra cash but have questioned how far it will stretch amid upcoming strikes by doctors and consultants.
For the first time in NHS history, joint walkouts were announced over pay disputes.
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NHS strike action escalates
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Alongside the winter fund, the government announced a £40m investment in social care, with local authorities being urged to bid for a share of the cash.
Ministers also injected £250m into the NHS last month as part of the two-year Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery plan which promised 5,000 additional beds, 800 new ambulances, and 10,000 virtual wards.
Officials said progress has been made compared to last July including faster emergency ambulance response times and more availability of general, acute, and virtual beds.
NHS England had also announced plans to introduce social care “traffic control centres” to help speed up hospital discharges for patients no longer needing to be in the wards.
Speaking about the new subsidy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Winter is the most challenging time for the health service, which is why we’ve been planning for it all year – with huge government investment to fund new ambulances, beds and virtual wards.
“This extra £200 million will bolster the health service during its busiest period, while protecting elective care so we can keep cutting waiting lists.”
The UK has pledged to send hundreds of new long-range attack drones to Ukraine ahead of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s meeting with Rishi Sunak today.
The Ukrainian president will meet Mr Sunak at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, for “substantive negotiations” over military aid.
Two Russian commanders killed – latest updates
The government said Mr Sunak will confirm today the further provision of hundreds of air defence missiles and further unmanned aerial systems, including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of over 200km.
Mr Sunak said it was a “crucial moment” in Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion, adding: “We must not let them down.”
It comes as Mr Zelenskyy embarks on a multi-stop European tour for more support from allies, as Kyiv prepares for its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
Mr Zelenskyy tweeted ahead of his arrival, describing the UK as a “leader” when it comes to Ukraine expanding its capabilities on the ground and in the air.
The UK government’s announcement of further military aid follows last week’s confirmation that it has donated long-range precision missiles to Ukraine’s military.
The government said the further provisions which will be confirmed later today will be delivered in the coming months.
On Saturday, the German government promised Kyiv its biggest military support package so far, with further arms deliveries worth €2.7bn (£2.35bn).
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What could happen next in Ukraine?
France also pledged further military aid, as French president Emmanuel Macron and Mr Zelenskyy met in a surprise summit in Paris on Sunday.
Mr Macron’s office said France will supply dozens of light tanks and armoured vehicles “in the weeks ahead”, without giving specific numbers.
Read more: Has Ukraine’s counter-offensive begun? Ukrainian home town of country’s Eurovision act comes under missile fire
Fierce fighting in Ukraine’s eastern city of Bakhmut, which has inflicted heavy losses on both sides, continues.
Neither Kyiv nor Moscow’s forces have been able to take full control of the city despite months of fighting, as analysis suggesting the battle for the city is not about seizing ground but maximising enemy casualties.
Mr Zelenskyy has said his troops would not attack Russian territory as part of their counteroffensive.
National exemptions are in place to provide critical care during strike action by nurses, a union leader has insisted, telling Sky News staff would never leave patients unsafe or create more risk.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) general secretary Pat Cullen was speaking to Sophy Ridge On Sunday ahead of a 28-hour walkout by members over pay.
The government has warned strike action without mitigations “clearly does put patients at risk”.
The industrial action will run from 8pm on Sunday until 11.59pm on Monday night after voting to reject the latest government offer.
Politics latest: Union leader says nurses are pushed to the brink
The union initially said it would not agree to derogations – broad areas of care where staffing is guaranteed despite industrial action – fuelling concerns about patients being put at risk.
It led Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) among other organisations to declare a “business continuity incident” until it was confident it could staff its services over the strike.
The RCN subsequently offered assurances after the hospital raised “serious concerns”.
But Ms Cullen told Ridge wider, national exemptions were in place.
According to the RCN website, limited safety critical mitigations would include allowing some staff “to preserve life-and-limb” care in emergency departments and intensive care units.
Ms Cullen said: “Our nurses, as I’ve said time and time again, will never leave their patients unsafe or create more risk that’s already in the system at this point in time.”
Read more: Health secretary ‘treating nurses as criminals’ GMB votes to accept NHS pay offer after Unite rejection
Ms Cullen added: “There are national exemptions in place for a range of services, for emergency departments, for intensive care units, for neonatal units, paediatric intensive care units, those really acute services.
“In fact, it was the Royal College of Nursing contacted NHS England to ask for a process to be put in place so that we could make sure that the strike was safe for our patients.”
‘Lives are being put at risk every single day’
Defending the latest walkout she added: “They’re going on strike because patients’ lives are being put at risk every single day, and why? Because we have tens of thousands of vacant nursing posts.”
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NHS executive: ‘Strikes are disruptive’
Health workers across the NHS have gone on strike several times in past months in disputes over pay and conditions.
Unions including Unison and the GMB have voted in favour of a government pay offer to end the strikes, while Unite and the RCN have voted against.
Nurses make up a quarter of NHS staff and are the biggest proportion of the health service workforce.
NHS England warned staffing levels for some areas of the country will be “exceptionally low, lower than on previous strike days”.
Pay offer ‘fair and reasonable’
Warning of the danger of strike action without exemptions for emergency care, cabinet minister Mark Harper told Ridge: “It clearly does put patients at risk, which is why we urge the unions not to go ahead and do the strike.”
Appealing to the RCN, the transport secretary added: “I would urge them to think again and to do what the other trade unions in the health service have done, which is to accept what I think is fair and reasonable pay offer, reflecting the value that we do place on hardworking NHS staff.”
‘I don’t want to see strikes go ahead’
Speaking on the same programme, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer refused to say whether he supported nurses going on strike without exemptions.
He said: “I don’t want to see strikes go ahead.
“The way to avoid strikes is to get in the room with the nurses and resolve these issues.”
A High Court judge ruled on Thursday it would be unlawful for the RCN strike to continue into Tuesday as originally planned, meaning it will now end just before midnight on Monday.
The giant American financial investor Carlyle is in talks about a major investment in Manchester United Football Club as the auction of the Premier League side nears its concluding stages.
Sky News has learnt that Carlyle is among a handful of parties which have pitched proposals to acquire a minority stake in the Old Trafford outfit.
Carlyle, which has assets of more than $370bn (£298bn) under management, ranks among the world’s largest private equity firms.
In the UK, it has owned companies including the RAC breakdown recovery service, and Addison Lee, the taxi-hire group.
One source close to the situation said this weekend that Carlyle’s interest in Manchester United was “serious”, adding that it had been engaged in discussions for some time.
Nevertheless, key details of Carlyle’s proposal, including the amount of capital it would look to deploy and the structure of a deal, have yet to be finalised.
Carlyle declined to comment.
More on Manchester United
Deadline set for final proposals
Carlyle’s interest has emerged a fortnight before a deadline set by Raine Group, the advisers handling the sale process, for final proposals to acquire or invest in Manchester United.
Sky News exclusively revealed last November the Glazer family’s plan to explore a strategic review of the club its members have controlled since 2005, kicking off a five-month battle to buy it.
Since then, dozens of parties have been rumoured or reported to have shown an interest, although few have emerged as genuinely credible bidders.
A bid deadline of 28 April has been set by The Raine Group, the merchant bank handling the sale, and which oversaw last year’s £2.5bn takeover of Chelsea by a consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
The culmination of the process comes as United chase trophies in both the FA Cup, with a semi-final against Brighton and Hove Albion next weekend and the second leg of a Europa League quarter-final against Sevilla to come, with the tie finely poised at 2-2.
In February, the Red Devils’ 2-0 defeat of Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup final landed their first trophy for six years.
Who’s in contention?
The two parties which remain in contention to buy out the Glazers altogether are Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, a Qatari businessman who chairs the Gulf state’s Qatar Islamic Bank; and Ineos Sports, part of the petrochemicals group owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Both have reportedly tabled offers below a £6bn figure, which has been speculatively touted as the Glazers’ asking price for the club they bought in 2005 for less than £800m.
In addition, several financial investors have shown interest in becoming minority shareholders or providing some form of structured finance to the club to allow it to revamp the ageing infrastructure of its Old Trafford home and Carrington training ground.
Those which have lodged minority investment proposals with Raine include Elliott Management, the American hedge fund which until recently owned AC Milan; Ares Management Corporation, a US-based alternative investment group; and Sixth Street, which recently bought a 25% stake in the long-term La Liga broadcasting rights to FC Barcelona.
At a valuation of £5bn – below the Glazers’ rumoured asking price – a sale of Manchester United would become the biggest sports club deal in history.
It would eclipse even the $6bn (£4.8bn) takeover of the Washington Commanders NFL team agreed this week by Josh Harris, an American private equity billionaire.
Part of the lure of such a valuation resides in potential future control of the club’s lucrative broadcast rights, according to bankers, alongside a belief that arguably the world’s most famous sports brand can be commercially exploited more effectively.
On Friday, New York-listed shares in Manchester United closed down nearly 5% at $22.02, giving the club a market valuation of close to $3.8bn (£3.1bn).
Glazers told to sell ‘without further delay’
This week, Manchester United’s largest fans’ group, the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), called for the conclusion of the auction “without further delay”.
“When it was announced in November that the Glazers were undertaking a ‘strategic review’ and inviting offers to buy the club, MUST welcomed the news and went on to urge the majority owners to move ahead with the process with speed, so that any period of uncertainty was as short as possible, it said in a statement.
“Nearly five months on, we read speculation that offers from prospective buyers remain below the Glazers valuation, and that a third round of offers will now be invited.
“With Erik ten Hag having made such great progress in his first season, and with the vital summer transfer window a matter of weeks away, the news of these delays and further prolonged uncertainty are of great concern.”
The Glazers’ 18-year tenure has been dogged by controversy and protests, with the lack of a Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager in 2013 fuelling fans’ anger at the debt-fuelled nature of their takeover.
Fury at its participation in the ill-fated European Super League crystallised supporters’ desire for new owners to replace the Glazers, although a sale to state-affiliated Middle Eastern investors would – like Newcastle United’s Saudi-led takeover – not be without controversy.
Confirming the launch of the strategic review in November, United’s executive co-chairmen, Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, said: “The strength of Manchester United rests on the passion and loyalty of our global community of 1.1bn fans and followers.
“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future.”
The Glazers listed a minority stake in the company in New York in 2012 but retained overwhelming control through a dual-class share structure, which means they hold almost all voting rights.
For the last two years, the club has been promising to introduce a modestly sized supporter ownership scheme that would give fans shares with the same structure of voting rights as the Glazers.
The initiative has, however, yet to be launched despite a pledge to have it operational by the start of the 2021-22 season.
“Love United, Hate Glazers” has become a familiar refrain during their tenure, with supporters critical of a perceived lack of investment in the club, even as the owners have taken huge dividends as a result of its continued commercial success.
An animal rights group says it will attempt to stop the Grand National from going ahead this afternoon.
Animal Rising activists are planning to scale fences and storm the track – and it’s claimed up to 300 protesters will attend.
Others will block traffic by performing a slow march along the main access route outside Aintree Racecourse.
Spokesperson Nathan McGovern said: “Animal Rising intends to make sure the Grand National doesn’t even begin.
“We know that if the race begins, then horses will likely die as Eclair Surf and Discorama did last year. People will attempt to put their bodies between horses and harm by calling the entire race off.”
According to Mr McGovern, a horse dies every two to three days in UK racing – “and we want to see an end to that”.
He went on to stress that activists plan to act before the race starts, and they would not enter the track if horses and jockeys are riding.
Merseyside Police said they have a “robust policing plan in place” and are working with Aintree’s owners The Jockey Club in preparation for any incidents.
One horse has already died at the Grand National Festival – Envoye Special – after it fell in the Foxhunters’ Chase just after 4pm on Thursday.
It is the 60th horse to have died at Aintree in the past 23 years.
Animal Rising was formerly known as Animal Rebellion, but changed its name earlier this week in order to move away from the umbrella of Extinction Rebellion.
It plans to target the Grand National were made public when an undercover reporter attended a meeting earlier this month.
According to The Mail on Sunday, activists are intending to use ladders and bolt cutters to get through the perimeter fencing at Aintree.
Mr McGovern added: “It’s a spotlight that we really need to be using to push a national conversation about our broken relationship, not only with horses but with all the animals that we use, whether that’s for food, fun, entertainment and dog and horse racing.
“This is very much about a bigger picture of recognising that, in a nation of animal lovers, we’re not really living up to those values with our actions.”
A Merseyside Police spokesperson said: “We respect the right to peaceful protest and expression of views, but public order or criminal offences will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.”
Meanwhile, an Aintree Racecourse representative urged Animal Rising to “reflect on whether their proposed actions are legitimate and responsible”.
They added: “Their actions could endanger the horses they purport to protect, as well as jockeys, officials and themselves.”
Hospital leaders have expressed serious concerns about how they will maintain patient safety as the health service enters “unchartered territory” during “unprecedented” strike action next week.
Junior doctors who are training in England will stage their longest walkout so far between 11 and 15 April.
The 96-hour strike is likely to be the most disruptive in the history of the health service due to the length of the action and the fact doctors have chosen to stage it directly after a long bank holiday weekend.
The bank holiday traditionally causes disruption to the NHS even without the prospect of strike action.
The walkout also coincides with the Easter school holidays, which means many consultant staff who provided cover during the first round of strikes will be unable to do so again due to pre-planned holidays and childcare commitments.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the timing of the strike and its duration present a “range of challenges over and above the disruption seen from the industrial action in recent months”.
It said that during the strike, the NHS will focus resources on emergency treatment, critical care, maternity, neonatal care and trauma.
But even in these areas, there are “real concerns of a raised risk to safety”, NHS Providers said.
The strikes could lead to delays for some patients starting treatment – for instance, if a new cancer patient needed to start weekly rounds of chemotherapy, the start of their treatment may be delayed until after the strike action to ensure continuity.
Last month’s 72-hour walkout led to about 175,000 hospital appointments and operations being postponed.
Hospital leaders have raised concerns with NHS Providers about the impact of the strike.
“This is less about what planned routine work gets pulled down and everything about maintenance of safety in emergency departments, acute medicine and surgery,” one hospital trust chief executive said.
“Concerned doesn’t begin to describe it.”
Another said: “I am not confident this time that we can maintain patient safety as we will not be able to provide the cover.”
“Many of the consultants who stepped up to do nights last time are not available or are more reluctant this time,” a third said.
While another added: “Those with families almost certainly won’t as [they] can’t rearrange out of school holidays.”
Read more: Analysis: Where will the money for a 5% pay deal come from?
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “It’s clear from our extensive dialogue with trust leaders that we are in uncharted territory.
“Yet again we are seeing colleagues pull out all the stops to minimise disruption and ensure patient safety. But the challenges here are unprecedented.”
Dr Latifa Patel, workforce lead for the British Medical Association, said: “No one understands better than us, the doctors who care for them, that patients are getting a substandard experience 365 days a year from an overstretched and understaffed NHS.
“In this brutal work environment, patient care is at risk every day due to chronic staff shortages and years of underinvestment in equipment and services.
“Junior doctors have no desire to strike, they been pushed into this action by long-term government inaction and now want to bring this dispute to an end as quickly as possible.
“We hope the health secretary will come to the table immediately with a meaningful pay offer so doctors can avoid more strike action and instead return to doing what they want to be doing: caring for their patients.”
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Why are doctors quitting the NHS?
A department of health and social care spokesperson said: “Four days of strikes by junior doctors will risk patient safety and cause further disruption and postponed treatment.
“The BMA’s demand for a 35% pay rise is totally unreasonable and unaffordable.
“We urge them to come to the table with a realistic approach so we can find a way forward, as we have done with other health unions, which balances fairly rewarding junior doctors for their hard work with meeting the prime minister’s ambition to halve inflation.
“We are working with NHS England to put in place contingency plans to protect patient safety.
“The NHS will prioritise resources to protect emergency treatment, critical care, maternity and neonatal care, and trauma.”
Visitors to Wales could be paying an additional fee for staying overnight amid plans to introduce a tourism tax in the country.
The Welsh government says it is moving ahead with plans to introduce a “visitor levy” in Wales.
Local authorities will have powers to introduce a levy in their areas, the money would then be spent on maintaining the local area.
Plans will need to be rubber-stamped by the Senedd before they are introduced but they are likely to get passed it’s one of the policies included in the co-operation deal between the Labour government and Plaid Cymru which was agreed after the last Senedd election in 2021.
The Welsh government says the charge will be “small” at commercially-let overnight visitor accommodation.
The Welsh Conservatives, the largest opposition party in the Senedd, has accused the government of “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
A similar scheme is already in place in more than 40 destinations across the world including Greece, Frankfurt in Germany, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the Welsh government argues.
A consultation received over 1,000 responses and the government says there was support across most local authorities and other organisations.
Responses also came from tourism industry representatives and many disagreed with the principle of introducing a fee.
The Welsh government’s consumer research found that 58% of respondents thought tourists should pay towards the upkeep and investment in their local area.
It also found that support for tourism tax was highest in areas which attracted the most tourists.
‘Sledgehammer to crack a nut’
Finance and local government minister Rebecca Evans said: “We understand some businesses have reservations about a visitor levy and I am grateful to all those who took the time to respond to our consultation.
“These responses will be carefully considered as we continue to develop our specific plans for a levy.
“Many destinations around the world use visitor levies to empower and enhance their local areas for the benefit of visitors and locals alike – I am confident this will be the case here in Wales.”
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The Welsh Conservatives’ shadow tourism minister, Tom Giffard, voiced the party’s opposition to the plans.
“Nothing says welcome to Wales more than Labour announcing they will be pressing ahead with their toxic tourism tax as families gear up for the Easter holidays,” he said.
“Tourism supports one in seven jobs in Wales enabling people to pay council tax, helping to tackle the issues that Labour claim a tourism tax would fix.
“The Labour government should be working with the industry to boost this vital sector instead of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
Rishi Sunak has said Jeremy Hunt will still be chancellor at the next election after criticism his number two did not have enough economic vision.
The prime minister, for the first time, confirmed to Sky News that Mr Hunt will remain chancellor when the next general election comes around in January 2025.
“Of course,” Mr Sunak said when asked by Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates.
Mr Hunt was criticised by businesses following a keynote speech in January about the government’s plan to boost economic growth as they complained it offered no new policies.
The chancellor also signalled the upcoming spring budget, to be announced by him on Wednesday, will not contain big tax cuts – despite calls from some Tory MPs – because of the need to focus on curbing high inflation.
But Mr Sunak insisted the budget will deliver on the three economic pledges he set out when he became prime minister: to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt.
“It’s important to get public sector pay settlements right, important to reduce debt to make sure we’re not passing on burdens for the next generation,” he said.
“It also ensures we’re reducing inflation and keeping interest rates low.”
What to look our for in Jeremy Hunt’s first budget UK to spend extra £5bn on military to counter China and Russia threats
Mr Sunak acknowledged that recent high interest rates have caused “damage” for banks, in reference to the UK arm of Silicon Valley Bank having to be rescued on Monday after its parent company in the US, SVB America, collapsed.
The PM said the government – and Mr Hunt – are focused on growing the economy in “the best way to provide jobs for people around the country”.
“That’s what the chancellor is going to deliver on Wednesday, what the government will deliver,” he added.
“People should be confident we’ve already delivered, we’ve brought about enormous improvement since I took over as prime minister last year and we’ll continue to deliver.”
Mr Sunak was speaking in San Diego where he is meeting US President Joe Biden and Australian PM Anthony Albanese as part of the AUKUS project to develop nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian navy.
He said the programme was not purely in reaction to the rising “systemic challenge” from China.
The PM told Sky News: “This partnership represents something much bigger.
“We’re building the next generation of attack submarines with world-beating technology that we will be able to share with each other.
“Not just in the Pacific, but the Atlantic and around the world, it’ll improve security around the world and provide jobs.”
The government is facing calls to crack down on a hunting loophole after figures suggested that hundreds of suspected illegal incidents took place in just five weeks.
The League Against Cruel Sports said there were 303 combined incidents of hunt havoc (trespass, road interference and disturbing animals) and illegal fox hunting between 1 November and 7 December.
It said there were 78 reports of a fox being visibly pursued, eight reported kills and three suspected kills during that period.
Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004, which came into force in 2005, but hounds are allowed to follow a scented cloth instead – called trail hunting.
Labour said that this is being used as a “smokescreen” for the illegal hunting of foxes.
The league’s figures were released to coincide with Boxing Day, the biggest day in the hunting calendar, with more than 200 hunts expected to parade through UK high streets before they head out to the countryside.
Spokesperson Emma Judd said it was time the government “came on board with public opinion”, adding: “Only by strengthening the law on hunting can communities, wildlife and rural values be protected.”
‘Extremely warped priorities’
Revealing figures showing that 438 convictions – including 42 last year – were secured since 2010 under the Hunting Act, shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said the government must “consign hunting to the history books”.
But Polly Portwin, the head of the Countryside Alliance’s Campaign for Hunting, said: “There have been hundreds of thousands of days of legal trail hunting carried out by hunts since the Hunting Act came into force.
“Only someone with extremely warped priorities could think that with the country facing a cost of living crisis, the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and political instability that now is a good time to start discussing hunting legislation.”
Read more: Emotions run high as annual Boxing Day hunt met with jeers and cheers
A UK government spokesman said: “The Hunting Act 2004 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with dogs, and anyone who believes that an offence has taken place should report the matter to the police.
“Those found guilty under the act are subject to the full force of the law.”
In Scotland, environment minister Mairi McAllan said loopholes around hunting will be closed as the Hunting With Dogs Bill goes through its final stage in 2023.