The NHS Shortfall in Funding; Suddenly An All-Party Issue
It has been interesting to observe how the former head of NHS England, David Nicholson’s, warning over an NHS “financial hole” has become big news in the context of the election. And how it has been framed.
BBC News have declared it an “all party issue” and they are neither alone nor original in that respect. It seems to be “the line”. All the parties will have to sit down and explain how they will deal with it. Remarkably little focus has been spared for how we got there. Five years of an entirely unnecessary and costly reorganisation, the underfunding, the sacking of “useless managers”, the farming off of lucrative services to private companies of friendly donors, the decline of performance and results – all forgotten. It’s everyone’s problem now.
And in a way it is, because it is a situation the consequences of which we all must suffer. But in another way it is not. To those of us who have been screaming “Save Our NHS” for the last five years it came as no surprise.
As early as 2012 the UK Statistical Authority had to rebuke the government for “misleading boasts” that they had increased health spending, when they had not.
In June 2014, senior Tories, including Stephen Dorrell, a former Conservative health secretary, Sarah Wollaston, a Tory MP, and Paul Burstow, a former coalition health minister, warned David Cameron that he needed to increase spending by as much as £15b over five years “if you don’t want the system to collapse during the course of the next parliament”.
In October 2014 Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned David Cameron of an impending NHS funding crisis.
As recently as last month top health chiefs like Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents 96% of trusts, sounded the alarm, saying that “there’s a real danger that the strategic deterioration [in NHS finances] could speed up and get out of control”. Note that word: “strategic”.
Even David Cameron’s brother-in-law, a cardiologist in the NHS, joined the chorus of disapproval in February, writing: “I think it is important that people understand that this is unprecedented. There is no doubt that we, and other hospitals around the country, are facing extraordinary challenges.”
So, let us not pretend this is a surprise and let us not pretend that it is not a party political issue. It is absolutely a party political issue which should weigh heavily on people’s minds as they assess pre-election promises regarding health and decide how they might cast their vote.
Yes, the problem is everyone’s now, but no, it was not created by everyone. It was most definitely created by a very identifiable group of people, who ought to be accountable.
UPDATE 17:10 – Just watched BBC News24’s 5pm bulletin. The BBC are now spinning this story actively against Labour (and Ukip). Because, while the Conservatives and LibDems (the parties who created the situation and ignored the warnings for five years) have promised the £8b the NHS needs (uncosted and prompted by Nicholson’s outburst), Labour have only promised £2.5b extra (and Ukip £3b). I genuinely don’t know whether this is cackhandedness or there is a larger agenda at work, but the consistent lack of critical thinking when it comes to the Coalition’s record from sections of the BBC is nothing short of astounding.