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Tories are failing the NHS

The Labour government between 1997 and 2010 oversaw an average annual increase in per capita health spending of 5.67%.

In sharp contrast, between 2010 and 2015, the coalition government inflicted an average annual reduction of 0.07%, and between 2015 and 2021, the Conservatives presided over a reduction of 0.03%.

The accumulative damage of over a decade of Conservative austerity is clear for all to see, yet the committed spend from the current government up to 2024 only provides an increase of 2.05%. This is not enough.

This is the stark evidence put forward in The Rational Policymaker’s Guide to the NHS, a recently published report by The 99% Organisation which presents statistics on the average annual change in per capita health spending – adjusted for population and demographic factors – by UK governments since 1979.

The guide argues that it is not the fundamental model of the NHS that is broken; it is sustained underfunding of the service since 2010 that has led to the current crisis.

It is a compelling argument.

There are over 125,000 staff vacancies across the NHS in England. Not only does this impact on those who are in post, leaving them over-stretched and facing burnout, but it impacts on waiting lists too.

Waiting lists for routine treatment hit a record high of 7.75 million in August, while cancer waiting time targets continue to be missed.

The underfunding of the NHS shows no sign of abating, despite the fact that the public wants to see greater investment.

The underfunding of the NHS shows no sign of abating, despite the fact that the public wants to see greater investment. Quote

This year, Integrated Care Boards - the new local commissioning bodies in England - are required to find ‘efficiency savings’ of around 6% on average. This comes at a time when patients are facing record waiting times and there are insufficient staff to run the service.

Instead of focusing on resourcing the NHS and supporting those who work in it, the Conservatives have starved it of resources and used legislation to open it up to further private sector involvement.

Their agenda has been to increase privatisation rather than to protect the NHS as a public service.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012, in effect, allowed NHS foundation trusts to earn 49% of their income from treating private patients.

The Health and Care Act 2022 allows representatives of private companies to sit on the new Integrated Care Partnerships and so play a part in preparing the integrated care strategy for an area, influencing where huge sums of public money will be spent.

When asked earlier this year if he thought we were stumbling or sleepwalking towards a privatised healthcare system, the highly respected Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Sir Michael Marmot, said that ministers “are not behaving as if they want to preserve our NHS”.

Conservatives will say that they are spending more than ever before on the NHS.

However, as The Rational Policymaker’s Guide to the NHS points out, the reality is that spending has not kept pace with need. This assertion does not take into account inflation, population growth, an ageing population and increasing rates of ill health.

Put simply, the Conservatives are failing to meet the health needs of the population.

Patients are suffering as a result, and so too is the economy.

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Image: Shutterstock / John Gomez

An estimated 185.6 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury last year – a record high. For many, long delays for treatment can lead to delays in returning to work.

As Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of the Nuffield Trust has argued, underfunding the NHS is not an economically sustainable strategy.

A government that fails the NHS, fails the wider economy.

The Rational Policymaker’s Guide to the NHS asserts that “the rational strategy is to recommit to the fundamental model of the NHS, fund it properly and introduce operational improvements over time.”

This makes a great deal of sense.

In order to address the tragic decline we are witnessing, we need government to tackle staff shortages, improve GP access and get waiting lists down.

To do this, we need to see an ambitious commitment to significantly increase health spending annually.

This would improve performance and increase public confidence.

It is unsurprising that public satisfaction in the NHS peaked in 2010 when Labour left office and reached its lowest in 2022, after 12 years of Conservative governance.

The NHS is our most treasured institution. We must make sure we give it the resources it needs.

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Margaret Greenwood is the Labour MP for Wirral West.

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