The government’s spring budget statement, released today, promised no additional funding for general practice or the wider NHS.
However, the Chancellor has confirmed that the 1.25% increase in National Insurance (NI) contributions, which the government says will increase by £36billion for healthcare and social services over the for the next three years, will continue from April 1 as planned.
Justifying the decision to ignore calls to delay the NI hike due to the rising cost of living, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was a “dedicated source of funding to the top priority of the country, the NHS and social care, providing long-term funding on demand”. grows, with every penny going directly to health and care.”
He added: “If it works, so does funding – and that funding is needed now.” Especially since my right hon. friend the Secretary of Health’s plans to reform health care will ensure that every pound of taxpayers’ money is well spent.
“When I said the Conservatives were the party of public services, the party of the NHS, I didn’t just mean when it was easy. It’s a total commitment. It is therefore right that the health and care tax remains.
Despite this, the NHS is expected to tighten its purse strings as the Treasury decided to double its annual efficiency target from 1.1% to 2.2% per year.
According to the budget statement, this will ‘free up’ £4.75billion of NHS funding over the next three years, ‘ensuring that additional funding raised by the Health and Social Care Levy is well spent’.
Among other changes announced in the budget statement, the government will add a further £500m to its ‘household support fund’ – intended to help poorer households pay for food, clothing and utilities – taking it to £1 billion.
The Chancellor also announced that the lower income threshold to start paying NI would be raised from £3,000 to £12,500 from April, along with a 12-month reduction of 5p in fuel tax for l petrol and diesel. He also promised a 1 pence cut in basic income tax, which will come into effect before the end of this Parliament.
But the news comes as the BMA had urged the Treasury to provide additional funding of £5-7billion to eliminate the backlog of elective care in England, 10% of which it says must go to general practice.
The doctors’ union had also called for a drastic expansion of places in medical schools; salary increases for NHS doctors; a “solution” to the “punitive” taxation of pensions which pushes general practitioners to retire early; a £1billion ‘welfare and welfare fund’ for NHS staff; continuation of free Covid tests for NHS staff; and increased funding for mental health and public health.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Given the unprecedented pressure the NHS is currently under, with patients awaiting life-threatening care and a severe workforce crisis in the NHS, it is disappointing that the government has not listened to our concerns about underinvestment in our recent letter to the Chancellor.
“While the Government has maintained its commitment to increase funding for the NHS through the Health and Social Care Levy, we were disappointed there was no mention of how it would fund the 7 additional billion pounds needed to clear the current backlog.”
LMC London deputy chief executive Dr Lisa Harrod-Rothwell said: ‘The biggest challenge facing GP practices in London and beyond is capacity: we have too few GPs and nurses and too much demand.
“While the solution to this problem is not solely financial, the absence of anything new for general practice is an insult to an already demoralized workforce and shows Londoners that the government has no no intention of supporting their local GP practices to address the backlog of care that has built up throughout the pandemic.
Dr Harrod-Rothwell said that “despite record numbers of appointments”, GPs “are grappling with more than a decade of systemic underfunding, exacerbated by two years of an unprecedented pandemic”.
As a result, patient care “is caught between a declining workforce and burgeoning demand, while GPs have given their all, often at great cost to themselves and their loved ones, to fight the coronavirus. “, she added.
Meanwhile, Health Foundation director Jo Bibby said today’s announcement showed the government “has yet to fully grasp the harsh lesson of the pandemic that health and wealth are fundamentally linked,” the think tank predicted that household incomes will now fall by 2.2% in real terms in the coming year.
She added: ‘A government that truly valued the health of the nation would have gone further today to protect the most vulnerable families from this latest economic shock. The increase in national insurance thresholds is important but does not target the poorest households.
“There has been no action on benefits, while the extra £500m for the Household Support Fund is well below what is needed. Higher inflation will also erode planned spending on public services that support health. The government should invest more to protect people here and now, as well as build resilience against future threats to our health.