Theresa May has been accused of misrepresenting the issues behind the NHS crisis, by the Chief of NHS England. May has argued consistently that the NHS received more funding than it asked for, and that the roots of the crisis lay in unexpectedly high demand on the service. But Simon Stevens, the Chief of NHS England, has testified to a parliamentary select committee that this is untrue.
May vs Stevens
More than 20 NHS trusts declared black alerts in the last week, meaning they can no longer guarantee patient safety. Across social media, we can hear live reports from frontline NHS staff struggling to save lives in the face of the government’s reckless under-funding and under-resourcing of the service. This is an entirely manufactured crisis and it has resulted in unnecessary pain, suffering and even death.
Throughout the crisis, Theresa May and her Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, have continued to state that under-funding and under-resourcing have had no part to play in the crisis. May herself claiming that:
We have given the NHS more than the extra money they said they wanted for their five-year plan.
But speaking to the Public Accounts Committee this week, Stevens stated that the Prime Minister was “stretching” the truth, saying:
it’s a matter of fact that like probably every part of public service, we got less than we asked for in that process. It would be stretching it to say we got more than we asked for.
In 2018/19, in real terms, NHS spending is going to go down – 10 years after Lehman brothers and austerity began.
In the here and now there are very real pressures… This is not because hospitals are being feckless. It doesn’t help anybody to pretend there aren’t finance gaps.
The funding lie
This is not the first time that the government and the Department of Health have been caught misrepresenting the finances of the NHS. The government is known for repeatedly announcing the same ‘additional’ funds destined for the NHS, while the money never seems to arrive.
In reality, something quite different is happening to health spending in Britain. As Stevens states, funding is falling below that which is necessary to provide the service.
Responding to the government’s 10-year budget forecast in 2015, the King’s Fund stated:
The ten years up to 2020/21 are likely to see the largest sustained fall in NHS spending as a share of GDP in any period since 1951.
As a result the NHS is struggling to meet its obligations to patients.
It’s austerity, stupid
The figures are unambiguous. Hospitals are struggling to cope with the most stringent period of financial austerity in the history of the NHS. Claims of unprecedented demand have proven false. The NHS is not overspending, or being over-utilised by immigrants or an ageing/obese population. It is being gutted by cuts in funding which leave it unable to meet demand.
In efforts to reallocate blame from the government, Conservative MPs and sympathetic media outlets have engaged in a smear campaign. Under-funding becomes overspending, and the crisis in supply (providing enough money and resources) becomes a crisis in demand (too many people abusing the service). This smear campaign is epitomised by the 10 January front page of The Daily Mail. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt pulls an entirely false statistic out of thin air; an obliging press then prints it; the bloke in the pub complains about it, and so on.
This is the politics of desperation. A government that has consistently under-resourced the NHS and social care services, panicking in the face of the consequences. And anxious to pin the blame on anything but its own ideology.
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