Leading article: Evidence that efficiencies can be made

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The Independent Online

It has been another tough winter for the NHS and its staff. More than a month of freezing temperatures along with a widespread outbreak of swine flu have put the service under excessive seasonal strain. And we will soon hear from the NHS's staunchest supporters that the £20bn in savings demanded by the Coalition Government by 2014 will damage the service and the morale of its workers.

But when issues as emotionally charged as the future of the NHS are at stake it is important to be armed with the facts before drawing conclusions about unfair treatment. In that vein, statistics stating that many health workers have seen significant increases in their earnings since 2000 provide some important context.

The most welcome gains have come for nurses and midwives, who deserved an increase in wages when they were earning an average of £22,600 at the start of the decade. Their earnings now top the £30,000 mark. Others have seen increases in their wages that most other workers, in either the public or private sectors, can only dream of. Since 2000, consultants have seen their annual incomes rise by 68 per cent, with earnings reaching £120,900 last year. Trainee doctors have seen their wages go up by 48 per cent between 2000 and 2009. The figures hold one lesson from the past and one for the future. As a reflection on the past 10 years, they are welcome confirmation that, though opportunities to reform the NHS and make it more patient-focused were missed, its workers did benefit during the times of plenty.

Looking forward, they should confirm that the Coalition Government's desire to take a scalpel to some of the health service's running costs should not be blindly resisted. With other departments now facing vast cuts, David Cameron's early decision to ring-fence NHS funding in real terms appears increasingly rash.

In difficult times like these, efficiencies can and should be found in the health service. But before the first incision is made, it is important to recognise that the NHS's staff, held in such high regard by the public, benefited greatly during the boom years.