Philip Hammond has promised the NHS will receive £425m in government investment over the next three years – but the way these funds are allocated could in fact lead to further NHS privatisation, campaigners have warned.
Sarah Carpenter, national officer for health at trade union Unite, said she feared the Government was trying to privatise the NHS through the back door by funding “shady” reforms in the guise of giving extra money to the health service.
“What they’re trying to do is potentially be able to say they’re giving money to the health service, but actually giving money to a part of it no one’s heard of,” Ms Carpenter told The Independent.
The Chancellor announced a £325m funding boost for controversial sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), which have been drawn up in 44 areas of England.
The plans are meant to reform services by saving money, but have proved unpopular in some regions because they will lead to department and hospital closures.
STPs create separate health economies that “become very attractive to large private sector companies who have interests in running health services,” said Ms Carpenter.
“The fact the only funding given to health is to put money into STPs gives us concerns about [the Government’s] motivation,” she said. “STPs are quite sneaky in themselves. There’s are no structures, no accountability... It’s all very shady.”
Mr Hammond said £100m would be given to combat overcrowding in A&E departments by employing GPs in hospitals to stop patients with less serious conditions taking up doctors’ time.
He also promised an extra £2bn for social care in this year’s Budget, saying the funding boost would help ease pressures faced by the health service. “We are the party of the NHS,” he told MPs.
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that the promised funding for STPs fell short of how much was needed to deliver the plans, which often involve costly building projects.
“The chancellor’s announcement of £325m of funding for some STPs is unlikely to go far enough, and we know that the plans need at least £9.5bn of total capital funding to be delivered successfully,” said BMA council chair Dr Mark Porter.
Robert Breedon, a lawyer specialising in health and social care who worked for the Department of Health for five years, told The Independent it was likely private sector companies would step in to fill the gap in STP funding.
“The £325m for STPs will help some of the transition work, but if you’re talking about significant system changes, it needs money, and there are private sector companies out there who are prepared to make that investment,” he said.
Mr Breedon, a partner at law firm Gowling WLG, said private funding in the health service could be beneficial as large businesses could bring expertise in how to manage services.
“People are getting a bit nervous about it,” he said. “But if you want to drive the change, and the only source of that money is the private sector, it seems to me to be cutting off your nose to spite your face to ideologically say: ‘No, we don’t want that money’.”
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
1/6 The elderly
“We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service, there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter, but we have the added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population,” Theresa May has said. Waits of over 12 hours in A&E among elderly people have more than doubled in two years, according to figures from NHS Digital.
2/6 Patients going to A&E instead of seeing their GPs
Jeremy Hunt has called for a “honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments”, saying that around a third of A&E patients were in hospital unnecessarily. Mr Hunt told Radio 4’s Today programme the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called “very serious problems at some hospitals” by suggesting pressures were increasing in part because people are going to A&Es when they should not. He urged patients to visit their GP for non-emergency illnesses, outlined plans to release time for family doctors to support urgent care work, and said the NHS will soon be able to deliver seven-day access to a GP from 8am to 8pm. But doctors struggling amid a GP recruitment crisis said Mr Hunt’s plans were unrealistic and demanded the Government commit to investing in all areas of the overstretched health service.
3/6 Simon Stevens, head of NHS England
Reports that “key members” of Ms May’s team used internal meetings to accuse Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, of being unenthusiastic and unresponsive have been rejected by Downing Street. Mr Stevens had allegedly rejected claims made by Ms May that the NHS had been given more funding than required.
4/6 Previous health policy, not funding
In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge, Ms May acknowledged the NHS faced pressures but said it was a problem that had been “ducked by government over the years”. She refuted the claim that hospitals were tackling a “humanitarian crisis” and said health funding was at record levels. “We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need,” said the Prime Minister. “They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required… Funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.” But doctors accused Ms May of being “in denial” about how the lack of additional funding provided for health and social care were behind a spiralling crisis in NHS hospitals.
5/6 Target to treat all A&E patients within four hours
Mr Hunt was accused of watering down the flagship target to treat all A&E patients within four hours. The Health Secretary told MPs the promise – introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 2000 – should only be for “those who actually need it”. Amid jeers in the Commons, Mr Hunt said only four other countries pledged to treat all patients within a similar timeframe and all had “less stringent” rules. But Ms May has now said the Government will stand by the four-hour target for A&E, which says 95 per cent of patients must be dealt with within that time frame.
6/6 No one
Mr Hunt was accused of “hiding” from the public eye following news of the Red Cross’s comments and didn’t make an official statement for two days. He was also filmed refusing to answer questions from journalists who pursued him down the street yesterday to ask whether he planned to scrap the four-hour A&E waiting time target. Sky News reporter Beth Rigby pressed the Health Secretary on his position on the matter, saying “the public will want to know, Mr Hunt”. “Sorry Beth, I’ve answered questions about this already,” replied Mr Hunt. “But you didn’t answer questions on this. You said it was over-interpreted in the House of Commons and you didn’t want to water it down. Is that what you’re saying?” said Ms Rigby. “It’s very difficult, because how are we going to explain to the public what your intention is, when you change your position and then won’t answer the question, Mr Hunt”. But the Health Secretary maintained his silence until he reached his car and got in.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health think tank, welcomed the idea to put GPs in A&E departments to help treat less sick patients, but questioned whether there were enough GPs to make the policy a reality.
Louise Irvine, a GP and health campaigner, told The Independent the money should go directly into funding and training more family doctors.
"A triage centre isn’t going to do anything to reduce demand. The people who are the experts par excellence at dealing with primary care issues are GPs, so that’s where the money should go, into developing general practice so we can recruit more GPs and have them in our surgeries,” she said.
“This is a completely stupid idea, it’s going to waste money, it’s taking money away from general practice into a spurious, un-evidence based, fancy-sounding notion that makes the government sound like it’s doing something when its not."Reuse content