Philip Hammond said “we are the party of the NHS” as he announced an extra £2bn for social care in this year’s Budget, promising the funding boost would help ease pressures faced by the health service.
Sidestepping calls from doctors, health bodies and Labour for an urgent cash injection directly into the NHS, the Chancellor said £325m of funding would be given to controversial sustainability and transformation plans (STPs).
STPs have been drawn up in 44 areas of England as a way of reforming services while saving money, but have proved unpopular in some regions because they will lead to the closure of some hospitals, A&E departments and other services.
Mr Hammond also said £100m would be given for triage in A&E departments to combat overcrowding, which the Government has claimed is due to patients attending hospital when they could be seen by a GP.
However campaigners have criticised the spending plans as “nowhere near enough” and accused the government of enabling further NHS privatisation by not giving the money directly to the health service.
Mark Porter, council chair of the British Medical Association, said the Budget “does nothing to address the gaping hole in NHS finances”.
“There is a £30bn gap to fill and we should be increasing the UK’s health spending by at least £10.3bn to match that of other leading European economies,” he said.
“The NHS and social care are at breaking point and have been failed by party politics for too long. We need politicians from all sides to come together to agree a long-term solution to the challenges facing health and social care.”
And Alan Taman of Keep Our NHS Public and Doctors for the NHS said: “Two billion quid for social care sounds a fortune but it is on a par with starving someone for a month then offering them a bowl of cornflakes above what you’ve been giving them. Not enough. Nowhere near enough.”
“Handing the money to any third party and not directly to the NHS or local authorities would be yet another slipshod extension of handing this governments’ deep-pocketed mates another slice of the dwindling cake – at everyone else’s expense,” he added.
The extra £2bn for social care will be implemented over three years to help ease intense pressures caused by an ageing population combined with bed and staff shortages.
The money, with £1bn promised in 2017/18, follows intense pressure from MPs and councils, but falls short of the levels of funding demanded by some campaigners.
Healthcare policy charity The King’s Fund called the additional money for social care “will provide some short-term relief for older and disabled people, families and carers who are being let down by the current system”.
“Our recent report highlighted lack of capital funding as a significant barrier to the success of STPs so on the face of it the decision to make money available to invest in the most promising plans is a step in the right direction,” said the charity's chief executive Jack Graves.
“This winter the NHS has been buckling under the strain of meeting rising demand for services and maintaining standards of care. The Chancellor must address this in his autumn Budget or be honest with the public about the standards of care they can expect with the funding the NHS has been given.”
Mr Hammond acknowledged the system was “clearly under pressure”, with the NHS suffering as a consequence.
In his first Budget, he said that, alongside the additional funding, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Communities Secretary Sajid Javid will announce measures to identify and support councils which are “struggling” and to ensure more “joined-up working” with the NHS.
Jeremy Corbyn called Mr Hammond’s cash injection to ease the social care crisis too little, too late, in a passionate Budget response.
Mr Corbyn accused the Chancellor of only “patching up a small part of the damage” from £4.6bn of cuts to social care since the Coalition was born in 2010.
“There is a state of emergency in social care now, which needs £2bn a year just to plug the gaps,” he said. “That is not met by £2bn over three years. The money is needed now.
“More than a million mainly elderly people desperate for social care still can’t get it. The money ought to be available now.”
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