The NHS has been given £350m to see it through the winter in the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget, after its chief executive, Simon Stevens, asked for the £350m a week pledged by Brexit campaigners.
Philip Hammond pledged an extra £2.8bn in one-off funding for the health service to cope with immediate pressures up to 2020, the bulk of which will be delivered in 2018/19.
This will be broken down into £350m this year, which will be available “immediately to allow trusts to plan for winter”, £1.6bn for 2018/19, and the remaining £850m in 2019/20.
It comes despite an unprecedented intervention from Mr Stevens earlier this month when he said the NHS needed an extra £4bn in 2018/19 – something the Chancellor had already ruled out.
NHS groups said there would be “tough choices” about what can be delivered for patients with the money available.
Meanwhile, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said patients had been let down by a budget that won’t fix the NHS’s “deep and severe problems”.
The funding will be in addition to the £9bn increase already set out for the NHS budget in the Conservative’s spending plans for 2015 to 2020.
This will mean the total increase to the NHS budget in 2018/19 will be £3.75bn, the Chancellor said, and should mean four-hour wait targets in A&E departments are hit next year.
“The NHS is under pressure right now,” the Chancellor said.
“I am therefore, exceptionally and outside the spending review process, making an additional commitment of resource funding of £2.8bn to the NHS in England.”
The announcement also included a commitment to funding a pay rise for NHS nurses, midwives and paramedics, but only if negotiations on wider pay reform are successfully concluded.
Mr Hammond said the nation’s nurses “deserve our deepest gratitude” and that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was currently negotiating changes to NHS pay scales so any wage increase would be recommended in “due course”.
“If the Health Secretary’s talks bear fruit,” Mr Hammond added.
“I will protect patient services by providing additional funding for such a settlement.”
Talks between Mr Hunt and staff unions began in 2014 but had been stalled by the now-scrapped cap on pay rises.
There was no equivalent pledge for doctors, with any increases above 1 per cent having to be paid out of existing budgets, despite official figures showing the NHS lost 1,000 GPs last year.
The final announcement was £3.5bn in new capital funding for redesigning NHS services and turning around struggling NHS trusts over the course of this Parliament.
This takes the total new funding to £6.3bn.
NHS and staff groups warned this was an “opportunity missed” with funding lower than asked for and emergency resources for winter delivered “very late”.
While the commitment to staff pay was welcome, the Royal College of Nursing warned that his commitment must result in a “meaningful pay rise” or risked insulting nurses who had salaries frozen or capped since 2010.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN said: “The NHS has been running on the goodwill of its staff for too long, and with more talk of reform and productivity, Hammond runs the risk of insulting nurses who regularly stay at work unpaid after 12-hour shifts.
“Their goodwill will not last indefinitely.”
NHS Providers, which represents NHS hospitals and trusts, said any investment was welcome recognition that the Government’s original spending plans for next year “were undeliverable”.
But chief executive Chris Hopson said: “It is disappointing that the Government has not been able to give the NHS all that it needed to deal with rising demand, fully recover performance targets, consistently maintain high quality patient care and meet the NHS’s capital requirements.
“The £350m has been targeted at acute hospitals, when community and mental health services are also struggling, and he warned: “Tough choices are now needed and trade-offs will have to be made.”
Chair of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said recurrent funding and investment in NHS staff “should have been an urgent priority” and lamented the lack of bold action on public health interventions for smoking and obesity.
“With workforce pressures and uncertainly from Brexit looming, today was an opportunity to put the NHS on stable footing as we enter uncertain times. It was an opportunity missed,” he said.
NHS England’s chairman, Sir Malcolm Grant, said the extra money “is welcome” and would fill some of the NHS funding gap.
“However, we can no longer avoid the difficult debate about what it is possible to deliver for patients with the money available,” something NHS England will debate at its board meeting next week, he added.
Mr Ashworth said: “Today’s Budget won’t fix the deep and severe problems facing the NHS.
“There was no mention of social care, no news on mental health, and astonishingly, after months of hints from the Health Secretary, there is still no detail of a pay rise for NHS staff.
“Instead, Tory ministers let down patients and their families today,” he added.
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