Today, Parliament is debating on the NHS Bill, as promised in the Queen’s Speech, to increase the annual day-to-day health service budget by £34 billion by 2023-24. I believe it will pass.
However, this is largely the same as the figure of £20.5b pledged by Theresa May in 2018, without adjusting for inflation.
This funding is far below comparable funding of other developed countries, and passing the Bill appears to be a largely symbolic move.
And this by no means meet the requirements to lift the NHS that’s engulfed in massive staffing crisis, with a nursing shortage of 40,000 in England and a decline in the number of GPs per person for the first time in 50 years.
The Government’s promises of 50,000 extra nurses, 6,000 extra GPs and other staff will be difficult to deliver. Without more GPs, the promise of 50 million extra appointments a year will prove illusory, even with more physiotherapists, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals working in surgeries to take some pressure off GPs.
The millions of people affected by longer and longer waits are likely to become Boris Johnson’s biggest problem within the NHS – he has no obvious plan to resolve this.
The only way to deliver this is overseas recruitment, on a larger scale than his promises assume. In social care, again, foreign nationals will be an indispensable support to a system that already suffers significant shortages, yet is likely to need even more.
This NHS Bill ignores real issues, like public health and social care
The issues facing the NHS span far beyond a simple workforce crisis – it has crumbling infrastructure and an underfunded system blighted by privatisation, dramatically affecting patient care at all levels.
I see overworked staff, with too many responsibilities and not enough resources, meaning compromised patient care, insulting diagnoses, and inappropriate treatment. An NHS in this state is a stain on the country, and an ongoing risk to patient safety. The NHS Bill ignores real issues, like public health and social care.
In my view, the NHS funding is no increase in real terms – it’s simply a political gimmick of a Bill. The Bill attempts to tick the box of the Prime Minister’s promise of increased spending in the NHS in law, but the test will be whether the uplift outlined in the Bill, albeit in cash terms, is sufficient to deliver on the promises he made before and after the General Election.
This Bill fails the Prime Minister’s test, because the proposed level of health expenditure won’t drive down waiting lists or drive up A&E performance to the levels patients deserve.
What’s more, it’s in no way sufficient to enable delivery of the long term plan.
The Conservatives fought the 2015 General Election on the vow of delivering 5,000 extra GPs, but numbers in our profession have reduced. Now, the Government is imposing pension tax arrangements that are driving GPs out of the NHS, or causing them to cut back on their shifts. The Bill doesn’t provide a solution to this, despite it being one of most crucial ingredients to recruitment and retention.
Many stakeholders, NHS Providers, the BMA, the Health Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, among others, have no hope from this Bill, and I’m with them.
Dr Kailash Chand OBE is a retired GP in Tameside