NHS analysis of the Autumn Budget finds that Health spending will return to 2010 levels, but is a “missed opportunity” to solve the staffing crisis
Yesterday (27 October), Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the highly-anticipated Autumn Budget.
In real terms, the Health and Social Care capital budget will increase by roughly 3.8% per year, reaching £11.2 billion in 2024 to 2025. The NHS maintenance backlog is currently at £9.2 billion, with the Government promising to spend over £8 billion between 2022 and 2025.
What are the key issues facing the NHS right now?
The COVID crisis continues to define the way the NHS functions. Some healthcare workers continue to put in 15 hour days, with no allowed leave, because case levels are rising and the medical backlog is still a tangible issue. During the lockdown stages of the pandemic, the NHS suffered an influx like nothing in recent memory.
In June, 2021, a Health Committee report noted that: “Burnout is a widespread reality in today’s NHS.”
Reflecting on evidence given across the healthcare sector from frontline workers, the report further said: “There are many causes of burnout, but chronic excessive workload is a key driver and must be tackled as a priority. This will not happen until the service has the right number of people, with the right mix of skills across both the NHS and care system.”
When announcing health changes to Parliament, Chancellor Sunak said: “The health capital budget will be the largest since 2010.”
According to NHS Autumn Budget analysis, funding returning to 2010 levels is a positive, “welcome” thing. However, health leaders note that this change comes from the same Government which removed the funding in the first place, leading to a decade of austerity for the NHS.
What was allocated in the Health and Social care budget?
According to a summary of key points via the NHS:
- Public sector pay will rise over the next three years;
- National minimum wage will increase from £8.91 to £9.50 per hour;
- NHS England will get £5.9 billion to fund the backlog of NHS tests and scans;
- Spending on healthcare will increase to £177 billion from £133 billion by the end of parliament, with the extra money from the Health and Social Care Levy going to the NHS and social care;
- And a new £300 million Start For Life offer for families will include funding for perinatal mental health.
One of the most fatal issues in the NHS, as highlighted by the Health Committee report, is a staffing crisis.
The Autumn Budget reinstated existing commitments for the NHS, like 50,000 more nurses and 50 million more GP appointments. However, there is no specific funding toward these promises.
The NHS is lacking 90,000 workers, which results in excessive working patterns for the existing workforce. After two years of facing COVID hospitalisations and deaths, this depleted force continues to function in the wake of a medical backlog – at high cost to their personal physical and mental health. Each worker in this situation becomes less functional as the crisis continues.
For this reason, healthcare leaders were looking for a specific training budget and plan.
Dr Marisa Miraldo, Associate Professor in Health Economics at Imperial College Business School, said: “The announcement emphasised diagnostics and IT, with no clarity on how funding will be channelled to reward existing staff and address frontline staff shortages that will impact the extent to which the waiting list backlog can be addressed in a timely and safe manner.”
NHS leaders emphasise “staffing is the biggest problem”
While the NHS Autumn Budget brings an increased investment, there is also an undercurrent of regret about the key failure within the announcement.
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders are grateful the Chancellor has listened to their pleas and allocated extra public spending for the NHS as it continues to respond to the greatest health and economic crisis of a generation, and they will do everything within their power to ensure it is put to best use.
“But to ensure the extra money delivers for the public, a strong and supported NHS workforce is needed. This is why training and increasing the supply of doctors, nurses and other health and care professionals is so important at a time when public polling recognizes that staffing is the biggest problem facing the NHS.”