Chancellor Philip Hammond has confirmed the planned funding boost for the NHS and announced an additional emergency cash injection for social services in his Autumn budget, but critics argue it will not be enough to weather the storm of increasing demand, inefficient service delivery and a workforce crisis.
In the short term, the Budget will provide an additional £240 million in 2018/19 (as previously announced) and £240 million in 2019/20 for adult social care, to ensure that people can leave hospital when ready, “into a care setting that best meets their needs”, to help free up NHS beds over winter. Also, a further £410 million is being streamed into adults and children’s social care in 2019/20.
However, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, described the move as a mere “sticking plaster”.
“This should have been a budget for the NHS to celebrate extra money after a decade of austerity, and make no mistake the confirmation of that money is welcome. But let no-one be in any doubt about the challenge ahead - rising demand, a monumental workforce crisis and an urgent need to change the way services are delivered will make the next few years very tough indeed,” said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
“And social care remains the Achilles heel – it has been consistently underfunded, neglected and unloved by politicians over many years and the extra funding announced today – again welcome – is clearly inadequate. What we needed was support to get the system back on its feet but what we have is yet another sticking plaster.
"This means we will struggle on for another year. We hope that the social care green paper is not further delayed: this has huge implications for both health and social care and most importantly for the people who need these crucial services."
The chancellor also announced a £2 billion funding boost for mental health, but as part of the long-term funding increase promised by Theresa May for the NHS earlier this year, equating to a real-term increase of £20.5 billion a year by 2023/24.
“The prospect of an additional £2 billion of funding for mental health by 2023/24 is a welcome step on the journey towards true parity of esteem,” said the Mental Health Network, but Dr Zain Sikafi, practicing GP and chief executive/co-founder of online therapy and counseling service Mynurva, said it “does not go far enough”.
“It’s become clear that the mental health crisis warrants a significant commitment if we are to tackle the problem and improve services across the country. And yet still only a fraction of total NHS spending will be directed towards mental health, undermining the Government’s ambition to put mental health on equal footing with physical health,” he said.
“With mental health having long taken the backseat, there is a lot of catching up to do if we are to improve the provision of these vital services. The overwhelming feeling from the Budget is that while there has been some positive progress, much more needs to be done. And regrettably, the Chancellor’s speech failed to disclose any new details about the policy reforms that will introduced in support of mental health services - merely reiterating what had already been announced in the lead up to the Budget.”
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the chancellor had “produced a Budget that tells patients nothing.”
“We already knew that he had committed to five more years of below-trend growth in the NHS’s funding. But we had not yet heard what the equivalent settlement would be for vital NHS functions outside the so-called ‘front line’ ring fence, such as public health, workforce training and capital investment.
“We also wanted to hear how he would address the ever-deepening crisis in social care. And finally, how would he pay for these essential services? Impressively, the Chancellor failed to answer a single one of those questions.”
Commenting on the extra £650 million cash injection for social care, she noted that the funding gap for adult social care alone has been estimated at £1.5 billion.
“With the green paper finally expected next month, we hope this is the last time we will have to comment on such inadequate, short-termist tinkering in response to such a fundamental long-term challenge.”
“While the sums all add up, the Chancellor again missed an opportunity to be frank with the public about the need to fund essential services properly. If we want high quality health and social care we will have to pay for it, and eventually the Government will have to mobilise a meaningful chunk of our national wealth through taxation, rather than relying on a range of small measures and unexpected tax windfalls.”