George Osborne's spending plans amount to a cut the real wider health budget by over 20 per cent over the next five years despite headline promises to increase NHS spending, a new analysis shows.
Researchers at the Health Foundation, an independent charity, said the Chancellor had cut health services by redefining and reducing the scope of services provided by NHS England – meaning he could keep his pledge not to cut core services while still making cuts.
Junior doctor training, health visiting, sexual health and vaccinations are among important areas subjected to cuts, but are outside the narrower NHS budget the Government has pledged to protect.
The Government publicised an NHS cash injection of £3.8bn on Tuesday ahead of the Government’s spending review in a bid to head off a winter crisis.
But Anita Charlesworth, chief economist at the Health Foundation, said Mr Osborne’s spending review, on Wednesday, had “cost the health system dearly”.
“The Spending Review has substantially redefined and shrunk the scope of NHS services to be protected from reductions in spending,” she said. “This means big reductions in wider health services, which is a false economy.”
“The government committed to increase NHS funding by £10bn in 2020/21. It has applied this only to the NHS England budget not total health funding.
“The Spending Review’s interpretation of what the NHS encompasses has cost the health system dearly – £3bn less than if the increase had applied to the full health budget in 2020/21.
“As result the wider health budget faces a real terms reduction of over 20 per cent between 2015/16 and 2020/21.”
She further described outlook for health services as “bleak” and said the Government had given with one hand and taken away with the other.
The cuts will mean that UK health spending falls from 7.3 per cent of GDP in this financial year to just 6.7 per cent, the Foundation says. This puts the UK significantly below comparable countries like Germany, France, and the United States.
Another health think-tank, the King’s Fund, said the Chancellor’s settlement for the health service was “good” judged against the constraints of the spending review but echoed concerns about steep cuts to public health.
“It is clear that a large chunk of the additional funding for the NHS has been found through substantial cuts to other Department of Health budgets,” said John Appleby, chief economist at The King's Fund.
“The full details are not yet clear, but cutting the public health budget is a false economy, undermining the government's commitments on prevention at a time when the need to improve public health is becoming increasingly urgent.”
Earlier this week, a Treasury spokesperson said the Government had been generous with the NHS.
“Over the course of this Parliament, the government will spend over half a trillion pounds on the health service – an unprecedented level of investment,” the spokesperson said.
When asked about the cuts, a Department of Health spokesperson said some councils had shown that more could be done for less with public health spending.
“We believe in the values of the NHS, that's why we have increased the NHS budget by £10billion but difficult decisions need to be made right across Government to reduce the deficit and ensure the sustainability of our public services,” the spokesperson said.
“But let's be clear, local councils will receive over £16 billion to spend on public health over the next five years. This is in addition to what the NHS will continue to spend on vaccinations, screening and other preventative interventions — including the world's first national diabetes prevention programme - and our childhood obesity strategy. The best local councils have shown that fantastic results can be achieved whilst making savings.”
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