PLEDGES BY the Tory party to increase NHS spending incrementally each year until it reaches £148.5bn in the 2023-24 financial year, and enshrine these undertakings in law, need to be placed in context.
Recognition that this is still an issue of trust – Matt Hancock is the first Health and Social Care Secretary to have tabled a NHS Funding Bill to reassure the public – it conveniently masks a number of factors.
Yet, while the sums are supposed to take account of the health needs of an ageing population, they don’t take account of inflationary pressures, like increases in staff costs, or the growing cost of the inaction over social care – hospitals are being left to pick up the pieces.
And, as the National Audit Office makes clear today, NHS provider trusts and clinical commissioning groups had a collective deficit approaching £1bn at the end of the last financial year.
A level of indebtedness which has to be serviced at the expense of patients, it is also the legacy of successive governments, Tory and Labour alike, coming up with short-term fixes to support the creaking finances of cash-strapped hospital trusts.
It also explains, says the watchdog, the inability of large of parts of the NHS to use the now record sums of money at its disposal to transform services for patients. Regrettably, this situation will persist until Mr Hancock realises that a significant proportion of this ‘extra’ money is being used to fund existing debts and the failure to reform the funding of social care. And until the Minister faces facts, his words about ‘record’ funding will need to be accompanied by a very large health warning.