A new NHS ten-year plan unveiled today (January 7) by prime minister Theresa May and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens was lambasted by Unite as nothing more than a ‘smoke and mirrors’ exercise.
May and Stevens announced that the new funding the prime minister pledged on the health service’s 70th birthday would be funneled into measures such as earlier cancer detection to improve survival rates; more mental health support in schools; and digital access to services such as GP appointments among other aims.
May said the new so-called Long-Term Plan, whose publication has been delayed by many months, would save 500,000 lives and would see a third of the extra £20bn pledged to the NHS by 2023 spent on GPs, community care and mental health.
But Unite and other critics have highlighted that the funding isn’t enough to meet the blueprint’s stated goals and that the plan will fail without proper staffing levels against the backdrop of a labour shortage crisis in the NHS. They have also pointed out that a social care green paper, which the government promised to publish in 2017, is yet to see the light of day.
“This new cash is, in reality, putting in the funding that the government removed a decade ago,” said Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe. “‘Smoke and mirrors’ is the name of the game.
“The money that is now coming on stream is not enough to meet the ambitious targets to save the almost 500,000 lives outlined in the long term plan,” he added.
“The NHS is like a Rolls-Royce that needs constant care and attention – the Tories, since 2010, have neglected its annual maintenance. The NHS requires an immediate cash injection to meet increasing demand. That’s the grim reality.”
Before Christmas Unite warned that the NHS is facing ‘a perfect storm’ winter crisis, due to a number of factors, including the dramatic decline in health visitors and mental health nurses.
“We know that even the projected boost of government funding to the NHS over the next four years does not meet the historic average increase in NHS funding over the last 70 years, which has run at about 3.9 per cent compared to the three per cent minsters are proposing,” Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe added.
“From 2010 up till now, increases in the NHS budget have been barely one per cent.”
Critics of the long-term plan have also highlighted that the blueprint only addresses funding for frontline care, while public health will not receive any funding boost even though it is a crucial component of preventative health.
In fact, public health, which is now run by local authorities has seen swingeing cuts over the last five years. Money granted to local authorities for preventative initiatives such as smoking cessation and healthy weight programmes, for example, will be cut by 4 per cent next year including inflation.
“Because of the massively flawed Health and Social Care Act, many of our public health services have been transferred to local authorities since 2013 and funding in public health has fallen by eight per cent since 2013/1,4 according to the Kings Fund,” Colenzo-Thorpe explained.
“How can this long term plan be implemented if the government gives with one hand and takes away with the other?
“This plan is doomed to failure if ministers do not reverse cuts to local authority budgets or give incentives to councils not to cut public health or community health budgets,” he noted.
“On top of all this, there are an estimated 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, which are compounding the current crisis. As a country, we also rely on the 63,000 EU citizens working in the NHS in England whose future is being blighted by the unpleasant atmosphere created by Brexit.”