The chancellor’s autumn budget was a ‘missed opportunity’ to address the black hole in NHS finances – and hospital bosses will have to have ‘difficult conversations’ about where to cut services as a result.
Doctors leaders said the budget, which included £2.8bn of new revenue cash for the NHS over three years, offers ‘little respite’ for the serious difficulties facing the service.
The revenue cash boost for the NHS was less than the £4bn a year health experts and think tanks called for and less than the £3bn put aside for Brexit preparations.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul (pictured right) said he was disappointed the budget had failed to put patient care first by addressing funding challenges and undoing ‘damaging cuts’ to the health service.
‘The NHS is facing the toughest period in its history and today’s budget offers little respite,’ he said.
‘The extra funding promised may ease some short-term pressures, but it falls far short of addressing the serious, long-term funding problems facing the NHS and doesn’t plug the funding black hole identified by the NHS’s own leaders.’
Dr Nagpaul added: ‘Health spending in the UK would be £10bn more if the UK spent the same proportion of its wealth on healthcare as the average of other leading EU economies. We have fewer doctors and beds than countries such as France and Germany ... and public health services have been cut to the bone in recent years. Many waiting-time targets haven’t been met for years and patients face longer delays to see their GP as general practice struggles to cope.
‘With workforce pressures and uncertainly from Brexit looming, today was an opportunity to put the NHS on a stable footing as we enter uncertain times. It was an opportunity missed.’
'We will always back it'
Delivering the budget, chancellor Philip Hammond restated his previous promise to provide £10bn in capital to the NHS over the course of the Parliament – although it is yet unclear how much will have to come from land and estates sales – as well as £2.8bn of revenue over three years and a promise to provide funds to cover an increase in pay for nurses.
He said: ‘Our NHS is one of our great institutions – an essential part of what we are as a nation. Its values are the values of the British people and we will always back it.’
But health leaders were disappointed by the announcement after warning that more would be needed if services were to be maintained.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said the extra funding would not be enough to avoid hospitals having to consider cutting services.
Writing on Twitter Mr Hopson said: ‘Good to see more NHS revenue for 2018/19. But since the increases fall short of the £4bn asked for, we will have some difficult choices to make around what can be delivered ... important to involve trust leaders in those decisions.’
Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital chief executive Sarah-Jane Marsh added: ‘My reaction to the NHS budget settlement – one of extreme sadness. Some very difficult conversations ahead.’
Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, responding to the budget, agreed. He said: ‘The NHS chief executive says the budget is well short of what is needed and, from what the chancellor has said today, it’s still going to be well short of what is needed.’
The budget failed to give any significant mention to either social care or mental health but the chancellor did say cigarette and rolling-tobacco taxes would rise at inflation plus 2 per cent, and said duty on white cider would rise. Despite a tax on normal cider, wine, beer and spirits would be frozen.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Doctors see first-hand the damaging impact of alcohol, tobacco and poor diet on people’s health, and it is extremely disappointing the chancellor didn’t take bolder action to tackle these problems, which cost the NHS billions each year to treat.'
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