The budget offers nothing to ease the pressures on the NHS
Dr Kailash Chand
In 35 years of listening to budget statements I have rarely heard one that had so little content to ease critical state of the NHS finances in general, and for general practice in particular. The NHS is at breaking point but no mention of further funding in the Chancellor’s budget. Osborne is offering nothing to ease the pressure on the NHS and only false promises for the future.
This budget will worsen the wealth divide and the health divide
The headline announcement of the budget statement - the rabbit that Osborne pulled from his mottled hat - was a levy on sugar. Most of the £520m raised in the first year will be used to boost school sports activities. Though it is a welcome step in the fight against childhood obesity, none of this disguises the fact that the Conservatives broke their promise to grow NHS spending in real terms every year. NHS funding almost froze after 2010 (rising by only 0.7% per year compared to the long term average of 3.7% per year). ‘Efficiency targets’, a pseudonym for funding cuts, brought NHS hospitals and general practice to their knees. Significant cuts in social care and district nursing budgets have led to increasing hospital activity, a critical shortage of hospital beds and a crisis in primary care. As a percentage of GDP, UK healthcare spending (8.5% of GDP) has fallen even further below the average for OECD countries. The chancellor also revealed that employers will have to contribute an extra £2bn to public sector pensions. The Nuffield Trust rightly warned that this could cost the NHS £650m in 2019-20 and 2020-21. The real terms increase in health funding planned for 2019-20 was already very low, so if the additional pensions cost isn’t matched with extra funding in that year it will be experienced as a real terms funding cut and make life very difficult for self-employed GPs and the NHS trusts.
George Osborne’s budget was an application to be next Tory leader - ’Elect me & I’ll turn UK into the dog-eat-dog tax haven you all dream of’. But Mr Osborne gave three separate tax cuts to the rich. CGT, corporation tax, and business tax. Meanwhile, he cut funding for the disabled and vulnerable in the society by £4.2bn. This budget will worsen the wealth divide and the health divide. It’s a shameful assault on the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Welfare cuts will indirectly put more pressure on the hard pressed GP services and the NHS.
In their daily lives, people care about quality of life, relationships, and communities, mental and physical health. And yet, it’s almost viewed as weakness to talk about politics in anything other than the most hard line economic terms. Between that disparity and the unedifying jeers from politicians as the Chancellor made his budget statement, is there any wonder people are disillusioned with mainstream politics? We are in desperate need of a budget that improves the state of the NHS. Hospitals and GP practices around the country are at breaking point and need urgent, extra investment to maintain even basic care to their patients. George Osborne made clear that while he remains Chancellor of the Exchequer, any hopes will not be fulfilled by him.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is the deputy chair of the BMA, and a retired GP