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With this Government the NHS may as well be in outer space

Dr Kailash Chand

In 35 years of listening to budget statements I have rarely heard one that had so little content. Neither the NHS nor general practice even figured in Philip Hammond’s speech.

I find it incredible that the Chancellor had nothing to say about the health service.

When challenged, he then took the entire NHS family for a ride, by reminding them that since 2016 he has given £9bn extra for the NHS and social care system with £4bn going into the NHS in 2018/19 alone.

Nothing said at the Spring Statement will help our imploding general practice system, an NHS that is at breaking point or a social care system that is on its knees, with the Chancellor restating past commitments that will last until 2020.

NHS austerity has damaged general practice the most

Despite years of warnings, every area of the NHS and social care system has a shortage of GPs, hospital doctors or nurses and it is the public, particularly vulnerable and older individuals, who are paying the highest price.

The ‘financial gap’ has been projected to reach £30bn by 2021. This is due to the disparity between the pressures on the NHS and the projected resources available to it. The mismatch between demand and funding means that NHS services are struggling to maintain standards of care.

And all areas of care are affected, with acute hospitals, general practice, mental health and community services all under strain. While the NHS faces its own financial crisis, with growing demand and an expectation to find £22bn in ‘efficiency savings’, other areas impinging on health spending, such as social care funding or other local government services, are also under huge financial pressure.

Austerity damages health. It has resulted in cuts to child welfare programmes, support for older people and unemployment benefits. All have been bad for health, put untold pressure on frontline health services and worsened health inequalities, mortality and life expectancy.

NHS austerity has damaged general practice the most. General practice’s share of the NHS budget has fallen progressively in the past decade, from a high of 11% in 2006 to less than 8% now. Many practices will see further reductions over the next three years, forcing further closures. A combined financial and staffing crisis could cause chaos in primary care for years and ultimately kill off general practice for good.

Allow me to conclude by quoting Professor Stephen Hawking, the great scientist, who spent his last days of life championing and fighting for the NHS, and said in his famous intervention: ‘The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions.

‘These political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of the student nurses’ bursary.

‘Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages. Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS.

‘When politicians and private healthcare industry lobbyists claim that we cannot afford the NHS, this is the exact inversion of the truth. We cannot afford not to have the NHS.

‘The NHS saved me. As a scientist, I must help to save it.’

There is no doubt that the current service is teetering on the edge of collapse. The NHS in general and primary care in particular remains grossly underfunded and Philip Hammond is either ignorant, or is ignoring the crisis.

For this government, the NHS is like a black hole in the Universe – they know it’s there, but they act as if it’s way beyond us in outer space so they don’t have to find a solution.

RIP Professor Stephen Hawking, defender of #OurNHS

Dr Kailash Chand is a retired GP from Tameside