The heavily trailed announcement last weekend by Prime Minister Johnson of an “extra” £1.8 billion for the NHS has swiftly been exposed not only as a blatant effort to win public support prior to an early election, but an equally blatant deception.
Far from being “new money” as Johnson claimed, more than half of it comes from reversing a previous government demand for trusts to cut back on their capital spending by 20%.
Keep Our NHS Public member and NHS doctor Sonia Adesara told Sky News:
“We have huge problems in our hospital buildings including ceilings falling in, water leaks, lifts not working, the cost of doing that is £6 billion so this money is just not going to cut it. And the reason why our hospitals are in such a state and in such disrepair is because we had £4 billion being taken away in capital funding by this government, so the money is not new, it's not enough, and it's not going to do what's promised."
'This money is not new, it's not enough, and it's not going to do what's promised'. @SoniaAdesara, an NHS Doctor and supporter of @keepnhspublic, lays bare the facts behind the Government's #NHS announcement. pic.twitter.com/4vWwjMqT6N
— NEON (@NEON_UK) August 5, 2019
So severe has been the squeeze on capital funding that among the urgent backlog maintenance tasks four trusts are under threat of intervention by local fire brigades if they do not urgently take steps to improve safety precautions.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has been relentlessly exposing the weaknesses of Johnson’s plan on Twitter, summing up that “It’s cash hospitals already had, but ministers blocked them from spending; Hancock has failed to deliver on existing promises; Tory smash and grab raids cut over £4 billion from NHS budgets, NHS left struggling with £6 billion repair backlog.”
Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons told the Daily Mirror: “We welcome additional investment in hospitals, but today’s announcement is like an absent landlord saying he’ll mend the shower, but the broken toilet, damp walls and dodgy electrics will have to wait.”
Where is the money going?
Of the promised money, £850 million has been allocated to 20 specific projects around the country. Over two thirds of the £1.8 billion is predictably flowing to acute hospital services – several of them reversing controversial plans for bed reductions.
This leaves just £145 million for three schemes to help upgrade neglected and crumbling mental health services and £102m for expanding primary care.
£1.8 billion equates to just over five weeks of the famous “£350m a week” Johnson and others famously promised on their bus would flow to the NHS if we leave the EU, and there seems little prospect of any more coming quickly if Johnson proceeds along current lines towards a no-deal Brexit. All reports forecast that would trigger a recession and a big increase in the budget deficit.
Even if the £1.8 billion is supplemented by a further announcement of a new 'technology fund', expected to be centred on new CT and MRI scanners, it’s clear that the 2016 promise was fraudulent, and that it was cynically used to con voters into believing they were helping the NHS by voting Brexit.
The HSJ analysis points out that a flurry of news on NHS investment is seen as a way for Johnson and the Tories to win over a sceptical public, and that as a result: “National NHS leaders have been told to provide any and all good ideas that can be announced in the “next 100 days”, as the government gears up for a no-deal Brexit and/or a snap general election.”
But if the future is a no-deal Brexit the staffing crisis may worsen, as the flow of EU-trained staff into the NHS over many years is abruptly reversed: with no staff to work them or in them - even shiny new scanners and buildings are of little use to patients or the NHS.
The HSJ has described the £1.8 billion as 'just a down payment'. It remains to be seen whether any further instalments will be forthcoming.