The Government is cutting the Department of Health’s budget for non-frontline services such as medical training and public health by £1.5bn next year, it revealed in today’s long-awaited Spending Review announcement.
Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that he was increasing the NHS budget by £3.8bn from next year, as part of plans to raise the overall budget by £10bn by 2020.
However, today’s announcement revealed that some of this funding will come from cuts to other parts of the budget.
Health experts said that such cuts were a ‘false economy’, and would lead to greater costs further on.
The DH’s non-NHS budget was £15.1bn this year, but this will be cut to £13.6bn in 2016/17.
This funding is used for central and local administration, clinical and medical training – including part of the salaries of junior doctors – public health spending by central and local Government and regulatory bodies such as the CQC and GMC.
The Spending Review statement said the Government will ‘deliver annual real-terms savings of 3.9%’ from the public health budget over the next five years, despite retaining the budget ring fence for the next two financial years.
In light of the announcement today, two leading health thinktanks warned that these cuts could mean cuts to important health services, creating a ‘false economy’ instead of savings.
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said that although yesterday’s announcement of a £3.8bn hike to NHS funding next year had ‘sounded generous’, it ‘is now clear this may have come at the cost of services that the NHS depends on’.
He said: ‘Contrary to the impression given that this is simply a cut in the DH’s administrative spending, the Treasury’s figures show it actually represents a £1.5bn cut in a single year to budgets that include training for doctors and nurses, and important preventive measures like stop smoking services and programmes to combat obesity.’
John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, said: ‘It is clear that a large chunk of the additional funding for the NHS has been found through substantial cuts to other DH budgets.
‘The full details are not yet clear but cutting the public health budget is a false economy, undermining the Government’s commitments on prevention at a time when the need to improve public health is becoming increasingly urgent.’
The statement provided no further clarity around the Government’s funding of its seven-day GP access pledge, beyond the £750m funding figure announced yesterday but appeared to be moving the goal post by saying it will be delivered by 2021 rather than 2020.
It said: ’The £10 billion real terms increase in NHS funding by 2020-21 will deliver seven-day services in primary care and in hospitals. By 2021 everyone will be able to access GP services in the evenings and at weekends with an extra 5,000 doctors in general practice. This will be supported by £750 million of investment and a new national voluntary contract for GPs.’
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt commented: ‘For doctors and nurses working harder than ever on the frontline this upfront investment means we can implement the NHS’s own ambitious plan to transform services for the future. We are passionate about building an NHS that offers the safest, highest quality care anywhere in the world – with services smoothly operating seven days a week.
’This new money will help us finish the job.’
Health Education England chief executive Professor Ian Cummings said: ‘We will need to ensure that we continue to focus on the highest priorities and invest specifically in areas such as primary care, emergency care, workforce transformation and new professions so that we remain at the forefront of improvements in the quality of care for patients through improvements in the quality of education and training for a workforce that continues to grow and needs to meet the demands and aspirations of those we serve.’
Other announcements within the statement included a £600m investment for mental health, electronic integration of health and social care medical records by 2020 and the DH being told to sell of £2bn worth of NHS assets in the form of land and buildings to make way for new housing developments.