Health bodies say that the Chancellor has ignored calls for extra funding to clear the NHS backlog and address staffing shortages

A stressed male doctor with his head on his hands behind a pile of work.

Health bodies have expressed disappointment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ignored calls for extra funding to clear the NHS backlog and address staffing shortages.

As a result, the health service will continue to face tight budget constraints, and will be obliged to look for more cost-efficient ways of operating in the wake of Rishi Sunak’s spring statement, health experts have warned.

The small print of the mini-budget confirmed that the NHS efficiency target would be doubled, from 1.1% to 2.2% a year, to free up £4.75 billion for funding priority areas in the health services.

In response, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said that its members felt ‘short-changed’ by the statement.

Speculation that the National Insurance Health and Care Levy has been put to one side to give the Treasury scope to bail out consumers facing a cost-of-living crisis has proved to be wrong, with the Chancellor stating: ‘If it goes, then so does the funding, and that funding is needed now.’

However, he went on to say that ‘a long-term funding solution for the NHS and social care is not incompatible with reducing taxes on working families.’

Further funding for health and social care ‘less likely’

Changes to the National Insurance threshold, which will put more money in the pockets of lower-paid workers, will not reduce the amount of money already committed to health and care, the Nuffield Trust stated. However, the think-tank’s Chief Executive, Nigel Edwards, said that ‘by choosing to put tax cuts above spending, the Chancellor has made it less likely that health and care will see any further increases in funding during this parliament.’

The British Medical Association (BMA) said that Mr Sunak had ignored its letter setting out strategies for stabilising the NHS in England. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA Council, said: ‘While the Government has retained its commitment to boost NHS funding through the health and social care levy, we were disappointed that there was no mention of how they would fund the extra £7 billion needed to clear the current backlog.’

‘Deeply disappointing’

Central to the BMA’s demands are a long-term workforce plan, above-inflation pay awards, and a wellbeing fund for staff. ‘It is deeply disappointing that the Chancellor has failed to heed the BMA’s call to address the punitive pension taxation rules, which [are] resulting in many doctors being unable to take on extra work or [being] forced to retire early’, Dr Nagpaul said, adding: ‘The absence of a costed plan to deliver a long-term workforce strategy was concerning.’

NHS Providers agreed that a ‘robust’ long-term workforce plan and a boost to education and training are needed.

Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said that trust leaders ‘know they have a clear duty and obligation to maximise taxpayer value because of the extra investment being made in the NHS, including the rise in National Insurance contributions.’ She added: ‘Trusts are working hard to find efficiencies, reduce costs, and identify savings in the NHS given pressures on public spending and the extra investment in the health service given in the October spending review, which the health and care levy will contribute to … [They] remain concerned though about the scale of savings they will be expected to make given the significant operational pressures they are now facing.’

However, the Nuffield Trust warned that simply ‘banging the well-beaten drum’ for more savings would be unlikely to help reach any targets. ‘Just meeting this target is going to be an exceptional stretch’, said Nigel Edwards. ‘For over a decade, the health service has been trying to uncover more and more savings while carrying out more procedures, but this has never happened [at] the speed at which the Government hoped.’

He added: ‘Making savings within staffing costs will be near impossible given the shortages across health and care, and the impact of inflation on costs and pay.’

Pat Cullen, General Secretary of the RCN, said: ‘Nursing feels extremely short-changed by this statement. The cost-of-living crisis means some are having to choose between filling up their cars and feeding their children.’

The doubling of efficiency targets meant that the Chancellor is ‘trying to squeeze even more out of the same staff’, she added.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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