The NHS has been set targets for ambulance, A&E and GP services by the Treasury as the chancellor seeks “Singapore efficiency” and “Scandanavian quality.”
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has promised £3.3 billion to the NHS for 2023-24 and in 2024-25 to help offset increases in inflation, however, has said the sector will commit to improving ambulance response times by half, year on year improvement in A&E, and for patients to see a GP within two weeks.
NHS England previously estimated it would need £7 billion in 23-24 to address inflation costs, however, NHS chief Amanda Pritchard said the settlement would enable the sector to meet its key priorities.
The chancellor also promised to publish an “independently” verified workforce forecast for the NHS on the number of doctors nurses and other staff needed in the next five, 10- and fifteen years’ time.
Setting out plans for social care in his autumn budget, the chancellor has said the government will make £2.8 billion available to social care in 2023-23 and £4.7 billion in 2024-25.
This will include £1billion of grant funding next financial year and £1.7 billion the year after. The funding will also come from “further flexibility” for councils on council tax and delaying the rollout of the cap on social care from 2023 to October 2025, and £1.3 billion and £1.9 billion from savings made by delaying social care reform plans.
Speaking with The Independent Sally Warren, director of policy at the King’s Fund said the promises for social care did represent a “significant” increase for the sector.
She explained although reform delays were “disappointing” the Treasury has recognised the sector is under “huge inflationary pressures”, she also said it was positive the government had given certainty over budgets for the next two years.
Ms Warren explained local councils will be able to increase council tax by 3 per cent a year and two per cent on top of this for social care precept. However, she said not all local councils will choose to increase council tax by this amount.
Sir Andrew Dilnott, the architect of the original plans for a social care cap has said he is “astonished” over the “really distressing and deeply regrettable” decision to postpone long-awaited reforms.
The NHS is yet to publish the long-term workforce plan that it has developed, however NHS chief executive this week said it would be laid before ministers soon. Sources have told The Independent the plan may have to be changed due to a lack of specific funding awarded by the Treasury.
In response to the chancellor’s announcement, Ms Pritchard said the £3.3 billion in each of the next two years would mean the NHS can fulfil its “key priorities.”
The Treasury has confirmed this funding will be “entirely new and additional” and will not come from within the Department of Health and Social Care’s existing budgets.
NHS Providers which represents NHS hospitals said: Trust leaders will also have heard the chancellor’s call for efficiency savings and demands to weed out waste. And while they will rise to the challenge, we must not forget that this announcement follows years of underinvestment in which health spending has fallen below that of comparable European countries.”
“…while there is much trust leaders can welcome in today’s Autumn Statement, they are also keenly aware of the extremely challenging state of wider public finances. The impact of double-digit inflation and deep budget cuts to other key public services will exacerbate the cost of living crisis and consequently, pile on the pressure on the NHS.
In a detailed statement published on Thursday, the Treasury said the NHS will publish “full recovery plans” for emergency care and primary care.
These will include details on how it will improve ambulance response times to category two, the second most urgent, patients to 30 minutes on average.
NHS targets are currently to respond to these patients, who could be experiencing a stroke or heart attack within 18 minutes however response times are currently nearly an hour on average.
The NHS will have to also improve A&E waiting times “year on year”. This comes after the English hospitals’ performance against the four-hour waiting times standard slumped to a record low last month.
The plans must also detail plans to ensure everyone who needs a GP appointment can get one within two weeks and an urgent appointment on the same day.
Finally, the NHS was told it will have to explore further options for patients to make choices about where they have their care or surgery from either private or NHS providers, in moves to recover the planned care backlog.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive for NHS Confederation said: “This is a positive day for the NHS and will help plug some of the funding gap that has built up because of soaring inflation and other pressures. It will help the NHS to tackle lengthening waiting lists and continue to get performance back on track.
“In return for the money, the government is asking for challenging efficiency savings and improved performance in areas such as ambulance response times, A&E waiting times and access to general practice. This will be tough but NHS leaders will do all they can to meet the challenge and use the extra money as effectively as possible. But we must be clear with the public that we face a long road to recovery.”
Richard Murray, executive of The King’s Fund said: “The additional £3.3bn funding for the NHS budget is important recognition from the Government that the health service is on its knees trying to meet demand and keep patients safe. However, with NHS funding on a knife-edge, it will force the service to focus solely on its top priorities and go further on an already ambitious efficiency programme.”
He added: “Whilst it appears capital funding is protected in cash terms with inflation at 11.1 per cent, the Government will not be able to meet its plans to maintain and improve NHS buildings, equipment and IT and will need to cut back its ambitions.”