Over the weekend I was delighted the Government announced that as part of its 70th birthday celebrations, the NHS will be given an extra £20 billion a year in real terms in the NHS by 2023-24. This forms part of a 10 year long term plan for the NHS.
This is really welcome news, and from my own experience at the Department of Health, I know this is a considerable personal victory for Jeremy Hunt, who the previous week became the longest serving Health Secretary ever. Throughout his tenure, he has sought a long term funding settlement for the NHS, which is why even when the government had to take tough decisions to balance the budget deficit it inherited in 2010, the NHS budget has increased every year.
But we all recognise the pressure the NHS faces from an aging population, and a growing need to manage lifelong and chronic conditions. So this 3.4% real terms average annual increase in funding will enable the NHS to plan for the future with ambition and confidence.
Of course, with such vast increases in funding, the public has a right to expect that every pound is used properly to improve health services. So it is right to ask senior NHS management to come up with a plan to tackle waste and bureaucracy and to dovetail this funding plan with a long-term workforce plan, a capital allocation plan, the social care green paper and plans to improve mental health and cancer outcomes.
There will be some who will continue to seek to weaponise the NHS, for whom health funding is never enough. But they should not detract from this historic increase in funding, which is over and above any funding promised by major parties at the last election.
Some have questioned whether this extra funding means the Future Fit reorganisation of acute care in Shropshire and Telford need not proceed. This is to misunderstand what it is seeking to achieve. The acute hospitals in our area have suffered the consequences of decades of indecision about how best to configure their services. NHS clinicians have developed proposals to ensure we have acute and planned care services fit for the future. The capital is allocated to fund the plan. It needs to proceed, informed by the current public consultation.
This week’s future funding will help the NHS in Shropshire drive through improvements in delivery of healthcare, prevention and treatment through care in the community and in primary care. This is why everyone should welcome it.