In his spring statement, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has completely ignored calls from NHS organisations for extra funding to tackle backlogs from the pandemic and major issues as a result of long term underfunding.
Responding to the Spring Statement, BMA council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “Given the unprecedented pressure that the NHS is currently under, with patients experiencing life-threatening waits for care and a serious workforce crisis in the NHS, it is disappointing that the Government has failed to listen to our concerns around under-investment in our recent letter to the Chancellor.”
There is still the commitment to increase NHS funding through the Health and Social Care Levy, but the BMA had called for an extra £7 billion to clear the current backlog.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, noted that soaring inflation will push more households into poverty, a key driver of poor health and:
“This will then have a domino effect on pressures facing the NHS as its teams work hard to clear the waiting list and respond to rising demand for healthcare services.”
It is not just that the NHS will receive no new money, due to inflation (which reached 6.2% in February), the cash spending settlements that departments were given in the autumn are now worth much less. According to a tweet by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, “the NHS England budget is now expected to grow by 3.6% per year in real terms, vs. 4.1% under October forecasts.” so services will be able to purchase less and deliver less.
Matthew Taylor noted that:
“With inflation hitting 6.2% in February – the fastest rise for 30 years – and as fuel, energy and food costs surge, this will have a significant impact on the NHS, seeing it being forced to pay out more in its bills, equipment and the wages of bank and agency staff.”
The Chancellor also failed to address several other issues that the BMA had highlighted, including the punitive pension taxation rules, which is leading to many doctors being unable to take on extra work or forced to retire early, and a long-term workforce strategy to ensure the NHS has the doctors, nurses and staff it needs to meet the healthcare demands of today and tomorrow.
The BMA letter to the Chancellor called for a further £5-7bn in funding to clear the elective care backlog in England, 10% of which it said must go towards general practice. The doctors’ union also asked for ‘urgent investment’ towards upgrading GP premises, which it described as being in a ‘sorry state’ and a £1 bn ‘welfare and wellbeing fund’ for NHS staff. Other calls were:
- An enhanced remuneration package for the NHS, including an above inflationary pay award and a solution for punitive pension tax rules.
- Continued free Covid testing for NHS staff and members of the public who have contact with the clinically vulnerable.
- Investment in mental health to ensure true parity of esteem with physical health.
- Increased funding for public health to address health inequalities.
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