Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Winter crisis is coming

We should be prepared for the NHS to be let down again by this week’s budget, writes Martin Edobor

On BBC’s Andrew Marr show this Sunday, chancellor Philip Hammond appeared to have lost touch with reality, stating that the United Kingdom has no unemployed people. Marr appeared stone-faced and baffled, immediately challenging Hammond and highlighting that there are in fact 1.4 million unemployed people in the UK and rising.

Despite the gaffe, Hammond managed to engage his brain and provide Marr with a preview of some much anticipated budget announcements. The chancellor hinted at millions of pounds in investment to high-tech industry, and a pledge to boost council housebuilding by allowing local authorities and housing associations to borrow more. Support for tech and housebuilding are welcome announcements, however, there was no meaningful announcement of extra support for the National Health Service.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, has made it clear that mental health services, cancer services, and A&E departments will deteriorate if Hammond does not provide around £4bn extra in Wednesday’s budget. Stevens argued during a speech to NHS leaders earlier this month that Britain should aim to mirror the levels of healthcare investment seen in Germany, France, and Sweden.

If the level of healthcare funding were to rise to reach parity with our European neighbours, the NHS budget would have to rise by £20-30 billion annually. This sum would help the NHS to bridge its current financial deficit, maintain quality of services, and invest in the future.

Sadly, it appears the government will take a different path, withholding much needed money. The potential consequences of not providing extra funding will inevitably be an increase in cancelled elective operations, missed referral targets for suspected cancers and longer accident and emergency waiting times. We are in autumn, and already hospitals are experiencing huge demands for inpatient beds. A winter crisis can still be averted if our hospitals receive adequate resources and support from the Treasury.

The chancellor has been dismissive of the funding needs of the NHS, preferring to focus on housing, technology and infrastructure. Hammond’s neglect of our healthcare service is no longer about his fiscal rectitude; his increased spending in others areas indicate he is making a deliberate choice to not support the NHS. Hammond is throwing money at certain sectors in an attempt to grab headlines and divert attention away from Britain’s crumbling public services and weak economy faltering in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

Commentators have reported that the chancellor plans to announce a much-needed pay rise for nurses alongside other public-sector workers, as the government lifts the one per cent public sector pay cap. However, our hospitals continue to charge staff for parking, trainee nurses no longer receive a bursary, and the pressures of short-staffing due to an exodus of European Union-trained nurses continues. This creates a difficult working environment for the nurses Hammond claims to want to help.

If the chancellor truly cares about our NHS and Britain’s people he will announce £4bn in extra funding for the health service in his budget, thus averting a winter crisis. Sadly we will see more of the same, with the man nicknamed ‘spreadsheet’ Hammond putting his deficit reduction targets above all, and flinching in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

On Wednesday our NHS will once again be failed by a Tory government riven with division, blinded by ideology, and indifferent to the evidence that our healthcare service is collapsing. As progressives, we must continue to hold the government to account and argue for the much-needed funding our NHS deserves.

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Martin Edobor is a junior doctor specialising in general practice and a member of the Fabian Society health and care group. He tweets at @martinedobor

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Martin Edobor

is chair of the Young Fabians

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