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UK health spending ‘to grow less than in austerity era’, analysis reveals

Health spending over the next two years will grow less than during the austerity era of the last decade, according to a new analysis of the autumn statement.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary who previously campaigned for greater resources from the backbenches, announced last week that the NHS would receive an extra £3.3bn in each of the next two years. With severe pressures growing on the service, he said it would be one of his “key priorities”.

However, research by the Health Foundation charity has found that when the whole health budget is included – covering the NHS, training, public health services and capital investment – it will only increase by 1.2% in real terms over the next two years. That is below the 2% average seen in the decade preceding the pandemic, as well as the historical average of about 3.8%.

The research comes as NHS trusts face almost impossible decisions over staff wages, waiting lists and keeping buildings and equipment up to date. The Health Foundation analysis highlighted the continued “significant uncertainty” facing the delivery of health services over the remainder of this parliament. It said there were now “difficult trade-offs” on issues such as pay and the backlog.

Anita Charlesworth, director of the Real (Research and economic analysis for the long term) Centre at the Health Foundation, said that there had been “short-term relief” for the health service, especially when compared with the cuts made to non-protected departments.

However, she said it would be “treading water at best as inflation bites and it faces rising pressures from an ageing population, pay, addressing the backlog and continuing Covid costs”.

“If other parts of the system – especially social care and community care – are also struggling with cost pressures, this makes it harder to deliver healthcare and the 2% will buy less,” she said. “Efficiency can only take the NHS so far. Since 2010, if we had kept up with German health spending we’d have spent £73bn more each year, and £40bn more if we’d kept up with France.”

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Source: The Guardian, 19 November 2022


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