False economies in social care and health education are putting services under increased strain
Jeremy Hunt may have survived the cabinet reshuffle, but his spending decisions are failing to reduce health inequality, according to a new report from the House of Commons select health committee.
In a highly critical report, the majority Conservative committee finds that last year’s NHS spending review misrepresented the amount of additional NHS investment, disguising cuts to public health services that will undermine efforts to reduce health inequality.
Committee chair and former GP Sarah Wollastan commented that although the NHS ‘has been treated favourably compared to many other departments, the increase in health funding is less than was promised if assessed by the usual definitions.’
“The cuts to public health undermine the radical upgrade to prevention that is needed to keep people healthy, reduce the gap in life expectancy and years lived in poor health for the most disadvantaged, and reduce demand on the health service. Cutting public health is a false economy, creating avoidable additional costs in the future.”
Wollaston also points to cuts to health education spending, which are likely to exacerbate the growing staffing crisis in the services, as well as to reduced social care funding, which hinders progress towards ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical healthcare.
She commented that
“Increasing numbers of people with genuine social care needs are no longer receiving the care they need because of a lack of funding. This not only causes considerable distress to these individuals and their families but results in additional costs to the NHS.”
The committee finds government’s much-heralded increased investment in the NHS is being used to plug the deficits in NHS trusts and salvage acute service provision, while long-term investment in the health and social care system, including preventative and capital spending, are neglected.
In other words, the government is creating false economies by increasing spending to fill the gaps created by its own long-term planning failures.
The committee also questions the government’s relentless focus on the achievement of a seven-day NHS, the issue at the root of Hunt’s dispute with junior doctors.
The report states that ‘given the constraints on NHS resources we will be reviewing whether the focus on seven-day services is delivering value for patients given the concern that it may displace measures which would be more cost effective.’
Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund, says the committee ‘has summed up the funding challenges facing health and social care with laser-like precision.’
“It is clear that it is no longer credible to argue that the NHS can continue to meet increasing demand for services, deliver its commitments on standards of care and stay within its budget. The government must review its priorities for the NHS and be honest with the public about what the service can deliver with the funding it has been allocated.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health issued a response, saying that the department ‘rejects these conclusions’.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.