George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced an extra £2bn in NHS funding for frontline services in the Autumn Statement. The extra NHS funding might be seen to be an attempt to relieve the challenge of increased demand for NHS services and also an attempt to modernise parts of the healthcare system. The Autumn Statement, given to MPs on Wednesday, to announce the extra funding which is expected to ease the load of the ageing population on doctors and nurses who provide frontline NHS services.
The NHS is considered to be the largest publicly funded healthcare service in the world. According to the NHS Confederation, NHS net expenditure has risen from £64.173 billion in 2003/04 to £109.721 billion in 2013/14. Considering the total expenditure that the NHS requires an increase of £2 billion may seem to be a minor increase however, Mr Osborne describes the increase as a ‘down-payment’ on securing the future of the NHS.
Increasing demand on the NHS has required it to function under challenging circumstances with longer waiting times for Accident and Emergency departments and also extended waiting times in seeing a General Practitioner. However, when speaking about the increase in funding the Chancellor stated that the increase is part of a plan drawn up by NHS management which requires an extra £8 billion a year above inflation by 2020 in NHS funding. The government aims this increase in funding coupled with the plans of an extra £8 billion might go some way to boosting the NHS to function effectively.
When questioned about how the increase in funding may be financed Mr. Osborne stated that “this is a down-payment on the NHS’s own long-term plan and it shows you can have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy.” When asked about potential future increases in NHS funding he said “I can tell you that we can go further and use those fines that have been paid by the banks for a permanent improvement in GP services.”
In reaction to the expected increase the Labour party called for an extra £1 billion on top of a £2.5 billion annual increase which the party maintains it might partly fund through its proposed mansion tax. Equally, it would be worth noting that as early as June this year Liberal Democrat sources were stating that senior Liberal Democrat officials may have been planning to approach the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, for an extra £2 billion in NHS funding. The increase in funding might also be an attempt by the Conservatives to try to challenge the perception that the party may have been looking to privatise the NHS however equally to alter the reputation that Labour challenges on with provision of subsidised services. Equally, by highlighting the reasoning behind the increase in funding being the strong economy, George Osborne might be underlining a part of social policy where Labour is thought to be challenged.
The head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted that the protection of the NHS might require significant savings in other areas of public spending in the future. However, it may seem that the Conservatives are attempting to boost their reputation in terms of the protection of public services whilst linking increased spending with the strengthening economy in anticipation of a general election where these may be key campaigning topics. Any increase in funding of the NHS may be considered to possibly have an impact on waiting times for services, however the real impact that the increased funding may have shall only be revealed after it has been implemented. Furthermore, with Labour’s plan calling for more funding increases it may seem that NHS funding and the future of the healthcare system might be important topics for next year’s general election.
How might the increased NHS funding bring productive benefits to NHS frontier health services?