A key focus was on providing extra resources to address the Coronavirus outbreak, but the chancellor also claimed that this was a "Budget for change".
For the NHS, the chancellor confirmed funding commitments set out last year in the Conservative manifesto on nurse recruitment, GP appointments and hospital building plans, and that NHS capital budgets will increase by £683million next year. There was no announcement on social care.
The chancellor promised that "whatever extra resources the NHS needs, it will get" to address the Coronavirus outbreak. This included emergency funding of £5bn.
Patients will also now be able to obtain a sick note by contacting NHS 111, a key lobbying ask from the BMA to reduce pressure on GPs.
Additional funding – and the commitment to provide more if necessary – is welcome. The Government must now listen to frontline clinicians about what support they need so this money can be most effectively used.
Short-term injections of funding will not solve all the challenges, such as workforce shortages, which are the consequence of more long-term decisions.
Pay and contracts/pensions
The chancellor there would be £6bn of additional funding spread out over the coming parliament:
- an increase in the Department of Health and Social Care’s capital budget of £683m in the 2020-21 financial year
- an additional £100million in 2020-21 for new hospital projects
- £5bn funding investment in gigabit broadband.
The chancellor confirmed that the Government would increase the immigration health surcharge from £400 to £624.
There will be a new discounted rate for children under the age of 18 of £470. For students and those entering on the youth mobility scheme, the surcharge will rise from £300 to £470.
The commitments on overall health spending in this Budget do not meet the BMA’s call for 4.1% annual real terms increases in NHS funding, and therefore fall short of what is needed to put NHS finances back on a sustainable footing.
Although modest additional funding for capital spending is welcome, it is vital that the Government sets out longer-term plans to substantially boost capital and revenue spending at the spending review later this year.
Further investment in digital connectivity will potentially improve access to health services. However, it is vital that all parts of the UK are able to benefit from decent digital infrastructure in order to stop widening health inequalities.
The BMA strongly opposes the immigration health surcharge. This increase will discourage international doctors from coming to the UK to work in the NHS and unfairly penalise patients.
Workforce, education and training
The chancellor reiterated the £6bn additional funding to the NHS and stated some of this would go towards recruiting 50,000 new nurses and creating 50 million more GP surgery appointments per year.
With GP numbers steadily decreasing, patients finding it harder to get appointments, and doctor wellbeing suffering under intense workload pressure, a boost to the GP (and nursing) workforce is long overdue and necessary.
However, without details it’s difficult to see how the Government will achieve this – especially given the clear failure against the current target to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020. Instead, we’ve lost almost 1,000 GPs since 2015.
Tackling the underlying causes of poor retention in the NHS will be vital. It is therefore vital that Government builds accountability for safe staffing into legislation governing the NHS.
The Budget restates the Government’s commitment to long-term reform of adult social care, although it did not give any detail on its specific plans.
The lack of a clear long-term plan for social care means that services will face ongoing pressure which will continue to impact on the NHS.
The BMA has called for personal social care to be made free at the point of use, and for those who work in social care to receive comparable terms and conditions to those who work in the NHS.
The funding announced in the last year’s spending round will only provide a sticking plaster when bold decisions are needed.