The additional funding for the NHS announced by the Prime Minister this week is fantastic news. A massive £384 million per week is a marvellous 70th birthday present for our National Health Service and will be welcomed by very many people.
Despite difficult financial circumstances, Government investment in the NHS has actually increased every year since 2010. However, how to fund the NHS in the long-term is one of the most pressing and potent political issues facing our country. Demand for the NHS only continues to rise and, as the population ages, there are a growing number of widespread chronic conditions which will be increasingly expensive and challenging to address. We need a credible and effective plan to fund the NHS and social care.
The full details of how the pledged additional funding will be provided are still to be confirmed but a major proportion will be financed by some of the money which will be saved when we leave the European Union. This not only holds true to the pledge of extra funding for the NHS as a dividend of Brexit but is also a significant reason to agree our exit from the EU as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Not all the additional funding, however, can come from Brexit. Other sources must be identified. These could be borrowing more, or reductions in spending in other departments, or increasing taxes. Whilst it would be wrong to pre-empt Government thinking on this, it is vital that whatever means is chosen, it is financially sustainable in the long-run. It could be questionable whether borrowing, squeezing other public expenditure or tax increases are a long-term solution to funding a well-loved but nonetheless bureaucratic health service.
Our exit from the EU offers us opportunities to do many things differently. If our National Health Service is to exist for future generations we must consider not only additional funding but a more efficient and effective way of doing things. As we look around the world for new trading partners, better ways of managing our environment, new ideas in technology and science we should be seizing the opportunity to look at how other countries spend less of their economy on healthcare but manage to produce better outcomes and longer life expectancies for their populations.
The NHS has defined a modern health system for seventy years. Its principle – free at the point of delivery – should be maintained and it is right that the Government invests in this. But if we as a nation fail to accept that the NHS has limitations and that we must look at additional ways to support it, the NHS we all know and cherish will not be there for the next seventy years for our children and our children’s children.