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18.06.18

Theresa May pledges £20bn a year for NHS

The NHS in England will get an extra £20bn a year by 2023, the prime minister has said.

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt has dubbed the boost a “fitting birthday present” for the NHS, which turns 70 next month.

Commenting on the value of the NHS, Hunt said: “Like no other organisation could ever hope to be, the NHS is there for every family at the best and worst of times, from the wonder of birth to the devastation of death, living and breathing those very British values of decency, fairness and compassion.”

He said that the cash injection recognises the “superhuman efforts” made by staff over the last few years to maintain services with rapidly growing demand, as well as presenting an opportunity for the NHS to “write an entirely new chapter in its history”.

However, Theresa May has been criticised for saying that some of the additional funding will come from a “Brexit dividend”, with some expert arguing that leaving the EU will result in a loss of government income that outweighs this dividend.

Hunt has confirmed that there will be “an increased burden of taxation”, although the details of this will not be clear until the autumn budget.

Health and social care is expected to cost as much as £200bn by 2030, according to recent predictions.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, argued that while the increase of 3.4% will stem further decline in the health service, it is not enough to address the fundamental challenges it faces.

“Increases of at least 4% a year are the minimum needed to tackle the backlog of financial problems from eight years of austerity.

“Increases of just 3.4% a year mean longer waits for treatment, ongoing staff shortages, deterioration of NHS buildings and equipment, and little progress to address cancer care,” she warned.

She also called it “worrying” that the funding increase only appears to apply to HS England’s budget.

She explained: “This excludes vital areas of health spending such as staff training, capital investment and public health.

“There are at least 92,000 staff vacancies in the NHS and public health spending fell by a fifth in real terms between 2013-14 and 2018-19.

“The failure to combine front line funding with capital investment, training and public health will directly impact patient care and productivity.

“All this means there is significant unfinished business for the chancellor in this autumn’s budget.”

'Not providing the long term cure'

Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, agreed that although Hunt and Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, have secured the best deal that they could, it falls short of the 4% annual increase that the NHS needs.

“The prime minister has administered a welcome shot in the arm that will get the NHS back on its feet but not provided the long term cure that would restore it to full health,” he said.

He warned that difficult choices lay ahead and that NHS providers will struggle to reduce financial deficits to reduce waiting times.

Simon Stevens welcomed the extra cash: “The prime minister has administered a welcome shot in the arm that will get the NHS back on its feet but not provided the long term cure that would restore it to full health.”

Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, pointed out that some experts have warned that an annual increase of 3.3% is needed simply to maintain the current service - just 0.1% less than the increase that has been pledged.

“So we must be realistic about how far this funding, and productivity gains will go - there will still be difficult choices to make about priorities. We must also recognise that, without adequate support for social care, the NHS will always be held back.

“This welcome funding boost also needs to be accompanied by an NHS workforce strategy that copes with growing and changing demand,” he said.

'Thrown down the guantlet'

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Niall Dickson said the prime minister has "thrown down the gauntlet" and made clear that the NHS and its staff can shape its future. 

"We must set realistic goals and make clear that there will be hard choices ahead," Dickson added. "The danger is that we overpromise and under deliver."

The NHS Confederation boss noted that the mental health needs to be properly resources and social care receives "its own long term plan." Jeremy Hunt said last week that it was unlikely that social care would be included in the extra funding from the PM.

"This sizeable investment falls some way short of the 4% extra-a-year figure the evidence-based report we commissioned said was required to meet future challenges. These will still be tough years ahead," he concluded.

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Image credit: Stefan Rousseau, PA Images

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