20th June 2022
Reading the news this last week, you will almost certainly have come across a discussion of the National Health Service. This week, NHS England published data on Accident and Emergency (A&E) performance. It made for bleak reading. Waiting lists and times are longer than ever and targets are being missed left, right and centre.
A growing population, longer and colder winters, and the smallest funding increases for a generation are all partially to blame. The major target for A&E waiting times is for 95% of patients to be treated or admitted within 4 hours of arriving. In only one month since 2015 has seen this target achieved. In contrast, in 2011/2, only one month did not meet this target. Perhaps more worrying is cancer treatment: for the majority of 2019, more than 20% of cancer patients have not been able to start treatment within 62 days of urgent referral by their GP.
This is not to claim that the National Health Service model is failing. It is partly understandable that efficiency has decreased when the overall number of attendees to A&E has grown from under 20 million in 2009 to almost 25 million in 2019 (year ending March). Performances prior to this time period were strong. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the issue of funding. Average annual funding increases for the NHS from 1955-2019 has been 4%. The ‘New Labour’ governments of 1997-2010 on average increased funding by 6% every year. The coalition government that followed increased it by an average of 1% every year. Of course, this was during the fallout of the global financial crash and a recession in the UK.
During this election, every major party has acknowledged the need for better funding and has pledged varying amounts of money to the NHS in order to avoid a further slump in performance. Prime Minister and Conservative candidate Boris Johnson has praised ‘amazing staff and amazing doctors’, promising ‘we need to be investing more in them. That is exactly what we are doing’. The Conservative party has pledged to spend £33.9 billion more on the NHS by 2023, in addition to funding for rebuilding in six NHS trusts. Labour have suggested that staff are working a million unpaid extra hours every week. In what they call a ‘rescue plan’, Labour will target an average 4.3% increase, including £26 billion in real terms for the recruitment of staff and repairing infrastructure.
After this year’s general election, the UK government will be looking to invest heavily in improving the quality and quantity of state healthcare available throughout the country. Whether these improvements will be visible for a number of years, however, remains to be seen.
Statistics via BBC News.
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