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by Angela Sharda
2 July 2018

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The gift that must keep on giving

The £20bn funding increase ahead of the NHS’s 70th birthday is a welcome surprise. But how it is spent will be crucial to the service’s survival over the next 70 years, says Angela Sharda
The NHS is one of Britain’s most prized possessions and this year it is 70 years old. On 18 June Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the NHS budget will increase by £20.5bn in real terms by 2023/24. More money in the pot is clearly welcome but the funding will not include increases for public health and nurse training. So overall, this amounts to an increase of around 3% —much lower than the 4% healthcare experts say would be needed to allow for improvements within the NHS.
Eight years of austerity has left the NHS in crisis. Technically, this funding equates to £394m a week, but is this really enough to sustain an overstretched and overworked NHS? Healthcare experts seem unimpressed with the announcement. Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘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.
There is significant unfinished business for the Chancellor in this Autumn’s Budget. The Government has missed the opportunity to put the NHS on a sustainable footing for the future.’
The Prime Minister says the taxpayer will need to ‘contribute a bit more’ to help the NHS. Details on how much and when are yet to be announced. But she does say that the tax increase will be implemented in a ‘fair and balanced way.’ I guess we will have to wait and see…
The way the money is spent will be crucial to whether or not the NHS is in a fit state for the next 70 years. This is a time for healthcare leaders to express their thoughts on where the money will be best spent.
One thing is for sure, the extra funding is a good start when it comes to addressing some of the pressing problems in the healthcare sector. The NHS is made up of 1.3 million people who dedicate their lives to helping patients on a daily basis, and the 70th anniversary is a reason to celebrate that and thank them for making our health system amazing.
The NHS is a fantastic institution that provides great care to patients and, as a nation, we have so much to be proud of. When Aneurin (Nye) Bevan founded the NHS on 5 July 1948, he said: ‘Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.’
The idea of free healthcare was seen as far-fetched by some but, despite facing fierce opposition, Bevan fought for what he believed in. If he hadn’t, the story we tell today would have been very different.
Since 1948, there have been many developments in the NHS. In May 1969, South African surgeon Donald Ross performed the first-ever UK heart transplant, and keyhole surgery was used for the first time in March 1989.
There is no doubt that the NHS is today under tremendous pressure, facing issues ranging from a growing elderly population and patient demand to limited budgets and low staff morale. Targets are being missed and in2017/18 we also faced the worst NHS winter crisis on record, and the lack of resources puta great deal of strain on the workforce. These are all issues that need to be worked on to make our NHS stronger and more successful.
If we promote a culture that embeds professional development, education and learning, there is no reason why our health service cannot survive another 70 years and beyond. Yes, I’m optimistic, but I do believe there is a lot to be proud of.
Angela Sharda is deputy editor of Management in Practice. You can follow her @angelasharda or email her at [email protected]