Thus spoke Theresa May to the Conservative Party conference this afternoon. All part of a pitch to the centre ground that has some political correspondents getting quite excited – even though it sounds an awful lot like Cameron and Osborne’s own pitch to the centre ground not so long ago.
And like her predecessors, the Prime Minister proudly boasted of “record investment in the NHS”. “At every election since it was established, Labour have said the Tories would cut the NHS” she bristled – and then the killer punchline
“…and every time we have spent more on it”.
Of course, in a way, this is true. The NHS does get more money. Because the budget increases, as the population increases, as inflation increases, as healthcare costs increase. Every year sees “record investment in the NHS” in absolute terms.
So while it sounds quite nifty, it doesn’t mean a great deal. A more accurate reflection of government investment in the NHS is the rate of increase in spending – the average annual increase.
And that tells us a different picture, as this data taken from a 2015 report by the London School of Economics and Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion illustrates:
As it happens, the last six years have seen the leanest period in terms of additional investment since the NHS was founded. And does not compare favourably with previous Labour administrations – or Tory for that matter.
As the Health Foundation put it: “the NHS in England is currently halfway through the most austere decade in its history” with the £4.5bn net increase in Department for Health funding provided in the 2015 Spending Review meaning that real terms annual increases will have been an average of 0.9% from 2009/10 to 2020/21 – “the lowest ever rate of funding growth over a 10 year period”.
And let’s not forget either that social care funding has fared even worse. Between 2009/10 and 2014/15, adult social care received a real terms funding cut of 9%. This has led to a fall of more than 25% in the numbers of people aged over 65 receiving community-based, residential and nursing care services. That’s 400,000 fewer older people getting the paid-for care that they need and forced to turn to over-stretched NHS services or informal care instead.
As the Health Foundation states:
"Pressures on NHS providers grow by around 4% every year, due to a growing and aging population as well as rising costs, expectations and prevalence of long-term conditions. At the levels of funding provided, the NHS is struggling to meet these demands and cost pressures."
Which is why, behind Theresa May’s grandstanding, we see a health service that is stretched to crisis point with over 90% of hospital providers ending last year in the red, massive gaps in staffing filled with agency staff and, despite the best efforts of staff, every area of performance going downhill from A&E waiting times to cancer treatment and ambulance call outs.
Rarely have the voices in the conference hall contrasted so starkly with the voices from the frontline of our public services.
The handling of the NHS over the last six years really does stand out in the history of our health service. But probably not for the reasons that Theresa May would have you believe.
If this does signal a change in the government’s approach to funding the NHS, the proof will be in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement next month. Join us in our campaign for a properly funded NHS, ask your MP to get the Chancellor to find the resources our health service so desperately needs: www.nhsfunding.info
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