On the face of it, the NHS has done better than it might have expected from the autumn Budget settlement. Compared with the March Budget, when there was effectively nothing for the NHS, the Chancellor has promised £350million to help ease pressures on NHS services this winter, then an extra £1.6billion for 2018-19 and £900million in 2019-20. In addition, there is to be new capital funding which will help ease some of the very pressing issues related to maintaining and modernising outdated buildings and equipment.
This new money for revenue, whilst offering some welcome relief, is however barely half the amount - £4billion a year - that expert commentators and the NHS itself calculate is needed if the service is to stand a chance of meeting targets for waiting lists, access to GP appointments, and being assessed promptly within A&E departments. The NHS is on its knees as ever more people turn up at A&E departments and in general practice. What is more, several years of deep cuts to social care have taken a severe toll and frail elderly people, vulnerable families, and those living with mental illness struggle to get the support they need to live at home.
For the NHS, this Budget settlement represents more of what the Comprehensive Spending Review offered – a crisis deferred not averted. New money is insufficient to address deep-seated problems, and the Chancellor is linking it to achieving waiting list and other targets that are already proving way out of reach for the NHS. Factor in that the Budget made no mention whatsoever of social care, and the picture is one of a health and care system being given some support to limp on towards a worrying and uncertain future.