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BUDGET 2017: Reactions to the Autumn Budget

by Valeria Fiore
23 November 2017

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Two weeks ahead of the Budget, NHS CEO Simon Stevens spoke at an NHS Providersconference in Birmingham to remind politicians of the £350m a week promised to the NHS during the Brexit campaign.

He said that, if there was a cash injection into the NHS, waiting lists will reach five million patients by 2021.

Instead, the Government has decided to give the NHS:

  • £335m to cope with this winter’s pressures;     
  • £1.6bn in 2018-19 and £900m in 2019-20;
  • £10bn in capital investment. 

The decision to invest more money in the NHS was welcomed, it is fair to say that the health sector’s reactions were full of disappointment.

‘It was better than we expected but it does not begin to take account of the enormous challenges we have to confront over the next few years,’ said chief executive of the NHS Confederation Niall Dickson.

The Government decided to turn a deaf ear to a joint request from the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation to inject an extra £4bn in resource funding by the end of this year. Instead, the NHS England received an additional £2.8bn in resource funding.

‘Even with this additional funding, the NHS will struggle to meet key targets and provide the investment needed in services such as general practice and mental health,’ said Richard Murray, director of policy for The King’s Fund.

There was also some confusion around how much money was being allocated to the NHS.

‘The figure provided [£335] was a bit generic,’ said Dr Joe McGilligan, strategic medical advisor to Strasys.

‘There was no indication on how this money will be invested within the NHS.’

Social care

Many voiced their discontent for a lack of funding going to social care.

Health and social care will be unable to meet demand, said Mr Dickson. ‘The Chancellor did not even mention social care – the extra £1bn for this year and next year was totally inadequate,’ he added.

‘If people cannot get access to social care, there will be an increase in number of patients ending up in hospitals – and this will put extra pressure on the NHS,’ said Dr McGilligan.

Social care faces a £2.5bn funding gap by 2019/20, according to the King’s Fund.

‘While the forthcoming Green Paper offers the prospect of reform, any meaningful change is a long way off and will be of little comfort to the many people who need help now but cannot access it,’ said Mr Murray.

Capital investment

Many welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement of an extra £10bn package of capital investment over the course of this Parliament.

However, many are wondering how the Government will raise this money to keep its promise.

‘To deliver the £10bn package promised by the Chancellor, considerable sums of money will need to be raised through NHS land sales and other means to top up the £4bn of extra government investment,’ said Mr Murray.

‘Unless far more money is raised from selling off land than previously thought possible, which may not be wise, this will not match the £10bn in additional investment which the Government has accepted is needed,’ said Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards.

No pay rise for health staff

Although the Chancellor is committed to funding pay awards for NHS staff on the Agenda for Change contract’, there was no promise of lifting the pay cap on public sector’s professions.

‘It is encouraging that the government is prepared to fund pay rises for nurses and other key staff on top of this extra funding, as long as agreement can be reached on new contracts,’ said Mr Murray.

Although welcoming the extra cash coming into the NHS this winter, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘Health unions are willing to explore all options to try to make pay better. But if the health secretary thinks negotiations will be a way of getting staff to pay for their own wage rise by giving up other things that simply won’t wash.’