NHS on ‘crisis footing’ as real-term funding less than 10 years ago

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The NHS is likely to remain on a “crisis footing” with rising waiting lists as extra funding outlined in Jeremy Hunt's autumn statement was, in real-terms, less than a decade ago, analysis has found.

The health service will receive an extra £3.3 billion in each of the next two years, while £4.7 billion will go into social care, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in his autumn statement on Thursday.

However, the Health Foundation believes while the increase to the NHS budget will provide “temporary respite”, health and care services will face “difficult trade-offs” on issues such as pay and the backlog.

Its analysis found the increase to spending over the next two years amounts to 2% each year in “real terms”.

The annual increase for the next two years is 1.2% in real terms “which is below the average” seen in the decade preceding the pandemic (2%), as well as the historical average of around 3.8%, the analysis indicated.

Anita Charlesworth, director of the Health Foundation, said: “Thursday’s statement offered short-term relief, especially compared with other public services.

“But the reality is that the NHS is going to be treading water at best, as inflation bites and it faces rising pressures from an ageing population, pay, addressing the backlog, and ongoing Covid costs.

“And if other parts of the system – especially social care and community care – are also struggling with cost pressures, this makes it harder to deliver healthcare and the 2% will buy less.

“Efficiency can only take the NHS so far. As Health Foundation analysis this week showed, since 2010, if we had kept up with German health spending we’d have spent £73 billion more each year, and £40 billion more if we’d kept up with France.

“Without greater recognition that our health is our wealth - and vice versa - and a greater focus on its long-term financial sustainability, the NHS is likely to remain on a crisis footing, with difficult trade-offs like performance and rising waiting lists for the foreseeable future.”

The Health Foundation said services face “a cocktail” of higher inflation, higher demand, ongoing costs from Covid, staff shortages, and challenging efficiency requirements, with no room for improvement or modernisation.

It went on to say England’s growing and ageing population, NHS Long Term Plan commitments, long waiting list for elective care and workforce shortages and pay are driving up pressure on the health service.

Royal College of Nursing England director Patricia Marquis said: “This analysis suggests that, like nursing pay, after a decade of low funding growth or – for pay – real-terms cuts, NHS budgets should be rising sharply now but aren’t.

“That the rise in healthcare funding in England has dropped from nearly 7% per year in the 2000s to just 1.2% per year in the 2010s speaks volumes.

“We’ve called on the Government to be bold and take a radical new direction with serious investment in nursing, including fair pay, but this analysis only appears to confirm our worst fears that today’s ministers are stuck on yesterday’s ideas of giving yet more pay cuts.”

The Department of Health pointed to the Chancellor’s speech and added no further comment.