It is increasingly difficult to see a coherent government strategy for the economy. Dealing with the deficit has now given way to 'doing whatever is politically expedient to win the next general election'. The NHS is high in list of voters' concerns.
The 'extra' £2 billion for the NHS announced today in the Chancellor's autumn statement is welcome. But it is too little and very late. The government has been warned over the past four years of cuts that the NHS is 'on a precipice' and would have difficulty meeting needs. Mr Cameron promised that the NHS would be 'ring fenced' and protected from the cuts, but so-called efficiency savings have eaten into NHS budgets to the tune of £20 billion.
Responding to the announcement today by the chancellor that NHS services are to receive £2 billion in extra funding, BMA Council Chair, Dr Mark Porter said:
“There is little doubt that the NHS is under unprecedented pressure from a combination of rising patient demand and contracting budgets. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are working hard to deliver first rate patient care to the public, but they are being undermined by a lack of resources and staff."
The BMA has also welcomed the designated investment in GP services.
“The chancellor’s announcement that more funding will be allocated to the NHS is an encouraging step forward as it does appear that politicians of all parties are starting to get the message about the dire state of the NHS finances. We are particularly pleased that policymakers have listened to the BMA and confirmed that £250 million will be allocated annually for the next four years to invest in GP premises and out of hospital infrastructure. Many GP facilities have been starved of investment for decades with the result that a number of GP practices are too small and inadequate to cope with the number of patients coming through the surgery door."
But the crisis in the NHS is more than simply funding. It is a crisis created by the government. We recall the promise that there would be no 'top down' extensive reorganisation of the health service. Yet this is exactly what has happened against advice of doctors' bodies such as the BMA. This has put an extra pressure on scarce front line resources. The reorganisation was senseless and unnecessary particularly in a time of recession.
There have been more than 38,000 'exit packages' for NHS managers agreed since 'reforms' began. Yet some 4,000 of those have been rehired. There is something ludicrous about managers taking lucrative redundancy deals only then to be recruited once more as consultants! The cost of redundancy payments for NHS managers has hit almost £1.6bn since the coalition came to power. The government's handling of the NHS has been at best inept.
As Mark Porter warns
“Despite this announcement, the NHS continues to face a number of challenges, with staff shortages, especially in emergency care, remaining a cause of concern. We need this announcement to be the start of a long term programme of investment in the NHS that is backed by all policymakers so that patients continue to get the care they deserve and need.”