Should the NHS be looking to Budget 2016 for medicine to ease its current pain?
Times are tough for the NHS, as witnessed by the worsening financial situation of NHS trusts, whose combined deficit in December was an unprecedented £2.3 billion. Other signs of strain are evident, as waiting times for operations increase, and more patients than ever have to spend over four hours waiting to be treated in accident and emergency departments.
Whilst the NHS feels beleaguered as it struggles to balance the books, preserve the nurse staffing levels put in place following the Francis Inquiry into events at Stafford Hospital, and cope with increasing demand from an ageing population, the Government (and in particular the Treasury) appears to take a rather different view. From their perspective, the NHS asked for £8 billion from the Autumn Statement and was given it and now needs to get a grip on its finances, given that it has been relatively protected from financial austerity in comparison with say social care and defence.
The Autumn Statement settlement for the NHS was in reality a case of ‘crisis deferred, not crisis averted’, for some of the additional funding was money being taken from elsewhere in wider NHS budgets, and it did not take account of costs to the NHS of changes to national insurance, nor of rising demand for care.
This analysis is however very unlikely to have convinced a sceptical Treasury that the NHS should now receive a further funding bailout. Instead, the Chancellor will be looking to the NHS to live within its means and get on with making the changes to health care provision promised in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.