The NHS faces a huge financial black hole regardless of which party wins the 2017 general election, three health think tanks have warned in a joint letter urging politicians to take action.
The King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation have urged politicians to find long-term answers to increasing health spending – or services will worsen and patients will face longer waits or be denied new drugs.
The warning came in a letter to The Times where the think tanks say that none of the three main English political parties have come close to finding the £155bn a year the NHS will need – as identified by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility – by the end of the next Parliament.
The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all promised to increase the budget of NHS England, which stands at £124bn. But the ageing population means the NHS will need more.
‘A real-terms funding increase of about £30bn a year is needed in five years’ time to enable the NHS to deal with these pressures,’ Chris Ham, Nigel Edwards and Jennifer Dixon, the leaders of the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation wrote in the letter.
They continued: ‘Our analysis shows that none of the main political parties has pledged enough in their manifestos to cover even half of that, while the share of our national wealth spent on healthcare would fall under all of their plans.
‘Failure to provide sufficient funding and improve efficiency will result in longer waiting times for patients, poorer access to cost-effective treatments and a decline in NHS and social care.’
Failing too many
It comes after the BMA urged politicians to give the NHS the focus it needs during the campaign and for the next Government to ensure a long-term solution to its problems was found.
BMA council chair Mark Porter said: ‘Despite having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, years of underinvestment in the face of rising patient demand means the NHS is now failing too many patients, too often.
‘Our hospitals and GP surgeries are full, social care is on its knees, with staff working under impossible conditions. This election is being fought against the backdrop of one of the worst winters on record for the NHS, with doctors reporting funding cuts and concerns over patient care and safety.
‘Whoever leads the next Government must ensure that NHS funding keeps pace with other European nations, that EU doctors in the UK are protected from the impact of Brexit, that general practice is properly supported, that policies protect and enhance the public’s health, and that the pressures impacting the day-to-day delivering of high-quality, safe care are tackled.'
Ms May called the election in April to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations.
Dr Porter said: ‘Our NHS is at breaking point and it would be all too easy for this election to become the “Brexit election” and little else, at precisely the time when the health service needs the unrelenting focus of politicians from all parties. Health is always one of the most important issues for the people of this country and politicians ignore it at their peril.
‘We call on politicians of all parties not to duck this crisis any longer, or use the NHS as a political football, and instead to outline credible plans that will deliver the fully funded and supported NHS that staff want and patients deserve.’
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