Hospital waiting lists 'will rise above 5 million' as targets slide

Denis Campbell Health policy editor
Health spending per head in the UK will have fallen by 1.3% by 2020 compared with 2010 levels. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

The annual increases in the NHS budget since 2009 have been less than one-third of the average yearly funding rise the health service has had over the past 60 years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Public spending on health across the UK went up by 1.3% a year between 2009-10, Labour’s last year in power, and 2015-16, the first year of David Cameron’s majority Conservative government.

The IFS said: “This is substantially below the average growth of 4.1% per year between 1955-56 and 2015-16. Spending growth under the coalition was the lowest five-year average since records began (though generous compared to the cuts to spending in other government departments over the same period).”

The years of small budget increases against the backdrop of a growing and ageing population mean health spending per head will have fallen by 1.3% by 2019-20, compared with 2009-10.

George Stoye, the IFS senior research economist who carried out the analysis, said the annual rises since 2009-10 were “the lowest rate of increase over any similar period since the mid-1950s, since when the long-run annual growth rate has been 4.1%”.

“Current government plans are consistent with David Cameron’s pledge at the 2015 election to increase NHS spending by £8bn. But they would leave health spending in 2019-20 below the amount needed simply to keep pace with the growth and ageing of the population seen since 2009-10, let alone the amount required to account for multiple other pressures on the health budget,” said Stoye.

The government’s policy of putting more cash into the NHS’s budget by shrinking Department of Health spending on public health and medical training is likely to backfire, Stoye said. A planned £3.4bn cut in such investment from 2015-16 to 2020-21 “may also have spillover effects on the NHS if public health deteriorates (and therefore more NHS services are required) or hospitals find it hard to recruit staff”.

A separate IFS briefing paper found that spending on adult social care fell by 8% in real terms, and by 13.5% per adult in England, between 2009-10 and 2015-16 because the population increased. The heaviest cuts were in the areas of greatest need, which were also the poorest parts of the country, the thinktank found.

Opposition parties seized on the findings to accuse the government of underfunding key public services.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said: “These IFS figures lay bare the total failure of the Tories to protect patient safety by properly investing in our health and social care services.

“It’s disgraceful that Theresa May has left health spending rising at its lowest rate since the mid-1950s, and her failure to implement wider social care reform demonstrates her ignorance of the serious challenges faced by carers across the country.”

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “[These figures] reveal the sheer scale of the crisis facing the NHS and social care in the years ahead. [Without] bold solutions ... we will see standards fall and hospitals collapse under the pressure of growing demand.”

Theresa May has so far refused to say during the general election campaign whether she plans to give the NHS more than the £8bn pledged by her predecessor.

The Conservatives did not challenge the accuracy of the IFS conclusions, but a spokesman said: “In truth, any increase in funding for the NHS – and we have committed to an extra £10bn by 2020 – is based both on a strong economy and securing a good Brexit deal.

“In this election, the public has a clear choice between the strong and stable leadership of Theresa May, growing the economy and investing record amounts in the NHS, or a weak and floundering Jeremy Corbyn, whose plans have a multibillion-pound black hole in them.”

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