Budget overlooks healthcare

by Tim Tonkin

Autumn statement fails to deliver any investment into NHS

Location: UK
Published: Friday 24 November 2023
Downing street

The BMA has accused the Government of deprioritising the nation’s health, following the failure of the Autumn statement to provide any new investment to the NHS.

Responding to chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget announced yesterday, the association said it was ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘astonishing’ the former health secretary could overlook healthcare in his spending plans.

The Budget, which comes as the NHS heads into winter amid industrial action, and with ever-growing patient waiting lists, merely reaffirmed the Government’s financial commitments to health and social care set out 12-months ago, with no offer of new investment.

Describing Mr Hunt’s statement as ‘further evidence of the Government deprioritising health’, BMA council chair Philip Banfield said the fundamental connection between a healthy society and  economy appeared to have been ignored.

He said: ‘As a former secretary of state for health, we’d have hoped the chancellor would appreciate the link between a healthy society and a healthy economy. Unfortunately, today’s statement suggests that this is not the case.

‘On the eve of an incredibly difficult winter, and with three groups of doctors in England still in dispute with the Government over pay, the complete absence of any commitments to health is astonishing.

‘There’s nothing to support the NHS with the squeeze to budgets brought on by inflation, nor anything to reverse a decade of public health cuts. On the one hand Mr Hunt talks about productivity, but on the other the Government refuses to provide the investment in buildings and equipment needed for staff to have the tools they need to do their jobs properly in modern and safe workspaces.’


Waiting lists

He added: ‘It’s no good for the chancellor to repeat plans to train more doctors, when nowhere near enough is being done to retain the ones we have. He continues to peddle the myth that paying public sector staff properly would increase inflation – something that has been roundly rejected by economists.’

In offering no fresh investment for the health service, the BMA has warned that the Autumn statement also ignored one of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s five key priorities for 2023, that of reducing NHS waiting lists.

With analysis by the association showing the number of patients in England waiting for consultant-led elective care now stands at record high of 7.7 million, Dr Banfield said the Government was not only not meeting its commitment on waiting times but allowing the situation to deteriorate rapidly.

He said: ‘At a time when the Government is not only failing to fulfil this pledge and reduce them, but waiting lists in fact continue to grow to record highs each month – even when there are no doctors’ strikes – it’s incomprehensible that the chancellor is not offering any support for the NHS in this statement [which overall] is further evidence of the Government deprioritising health.’