Health spending will top inflation but NHS pledges dropped

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Indy Politics

Health spending will rise over and above inflation but key NHS promises have been abandoned or could be watered down as a result of today's spending review.

Several pledges made by the previous Labour government have been scrapped, including free prescriptions for people with long-term conditions.

One-to-one nursing for cancer patients and the promise that patients will only wait one week for cancer test results will also "not be taken forward at this stage".

Before the election, Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised a £200 million a year fund for cancer drugs.

Today's review said the fund will be "up to" £200 million a year but no final decisions have been published.

It comes after Lord Howe said in July the £200 million was an "aspirational figure".

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Following today's spending review settlement we will be shortly setting out the detail for the funding of the cancer drugs fund which will commence from April 2011, and will be consulting on how it will operate."

Overall health spending will rise from £104 billion this year to £114 billion by the end of the next four years, Chancellor George Osborne said today.

He promised an expansion of talking therapies for those with mental health problems and funding for priority hospital schemes.

Social care will receive an extra £1 billion a year from NHS funds as part of an overall £2 billion of extra funding every year by 2014/15 to support social care.

But this is set against a backdrop of 26% cuts in central government funding to local councils over the next four years.

And, while health spending will be protected in the immediate future, the NHS is still expected to find "efficiency savings" of £15 billion to £20 billion.

Experts have warned that the increase in funding is unlikely to be enough to keep pace with demand for services and the pressure of costs.

Demand for health services is on the rise across all groups, with issues such as obesity fuelling a boom in conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

People are living longer lives than ever before, but more of these later years are spent in ill health, pushing up costs by more than £1 billion a year.

There are fears that elderly people unable to access social care services will turn to the NHS for help.

So, even though the NHS budget is being protected, it could feel like a cut due to rising pressures.

With more than half of the NHS budget going on pay, the NHS is also recording job losses.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) estimates more than 10,000 posts have closed in recent months.

Dave Prentis, from Unison, said: "Patients and staff will soon see through the facade that the NHS is being ring-fenced, when at the same time it has been told to make £20 billion worth of savings.

"The NHS is not safe.

"Some hospitals are already cutting back on vital life-improving operations such as cataract, hip and knee replacements.

"The NHS needs extra funding just to stand still. It will not be able to keep up with the demands of a growing elderly population and the cost of increasingly expensive treatments and drugs."