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Broad welcome for NHS long-term funding plan

Doctors and managers says a long-term settlement must address health and social care

Mark Gould

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Doctors and NHS managers have welcomed prime minister Theresa May's promise of a ‘multi-year’ funding plan for the NHS in England to address its long-term financial needs.

Appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee, Mrs May said she wanted to come up with a different approach to funding the NHS and social care in the run-up to next year's government spending review, based on the health service's existing Five Year Forward View.

Mrs May said she wanted a dialogue with NHS workers, as well as MPs, to discuss the best way forward, suggesting the NHS could not afford to wait another year to have this conversation. Mrs May said she wanted to get away from ‘annual top-ups’ in cash and would come up with a blueprint this year to allow the NHS ‘to plan for the future’.

She said the NHS faced ‘serious cost pressures and demands’ and she wanted to build a political consensus on boosting productivity and efficiency.

Doctors, NHS trusts and health analysts have been vocal for many years in asking for such long-term cash settlements to dovetail with long-term planning.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: "We cautiously welcome the prime minister’s comments, which represent a long-awaited first step in recognising the pressing and long-term needs of an NHS suffering after years of underinvestment, leaving patient care compromised.

“However, we need to see the details of any plan before believing this will truly deliver on the rhetoric. As the NHS reaches its 70th birthday, the government must work with organisations such as the BMA, which represents frontline doctors, to ensure any long-term funding plan is sustainable, meets the needs of patients and staff, and ensures safe and high-quality care for the next seven decades and beyond.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, was more optimistic: “The prime minister’s promise really is the best possible Easter present for the health and social care system after a truly torrid winter.

“We have been calling for a settlement which is long-term, more generous and one that addresses health and social care together, rather than as individual entities. Tonight the prime minister signalled an intent to tick all three boxes and we are delighted.”

And Anita Charlesworth, the director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said Mrs May's commitment to long-term stable funding for the NHS is ‘welcome’.

"The current short-term boom and bust approach to funding is hugely detrimental to efforts to increase productivity, secure quality and meet the growing needs of an ageing population. But the devil will be in the detail - most critically how much extra funding will be promised and will it cover both the NHS and social care. Evidence shows the health and care system will need increases of over 4% a year above inflation to be sustainable, yet spending will have increased by just 1.2% a year in real terms over this decade, the lowest of any decade since the NHS was founded.

"Providing more for health and care at the expense of other public services, many of which impact on people’s health, would be a false economy. The level of funding growth the NHS and care system need cannot be found within current government spending plans and the UK still has a deficit. While the funding commitment is laudable, long-term funding growth for the NHS and care system at the level needed will almost certainly require a commitment to increase tax."

Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, welcomed the ‘timely’ pledge. He said the UK needed to capitalise on advances in medical care while ensuring the ‘great pressure’ on frontline staff was alleviated.

Mr Stevens said a multi-year funding settlement for the NHS and social care "could mean huge gains for cancer patients, mental health services and support for frail older people, as well as the several million nurses, doctors and other care staff who devote their lives to looking after us."

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