IfG prescribes cross-party inquiry to ‘properly meet’ NHS funding needs
Think tank says Theresa May’s multi-billion-pound pledges will be unsustainable without a realistic plan for raising the cash
Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt Credit: Parliament TV
The Institute for Government has cast doubt on prime minister Theresa May’s ability to deliver on the latest round of funding pledges for the NHS in the long term, and called for a parliamentary inquiry to ensure the health service gets the financing it needs.
In a report, timed to coincide with the National Health Service’s 70th birthday, the think tank argues that May’s pledge that the NHS will get a 3.4% annual increase over the next five years will be “unsustainable” without a realistic plan for how the money will be raised.
It dismisses the prime minister’s suggestion that a “Brexit dividend” will contribute to the funding boost, worth £20.5bn a year by 2023-24, and insists that the cash will “have to come from cuts to other parts of public expenditure” unless a clear way to raise the funding is found.
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The IfG said a cross-party parliamentary inquiry could get to the root of the question and build political support for an answer. It added that even if the proposals were not fully implemented before the next election, any conclusions could be easily picked up by a future government of any political hue. The IfG said the inquiry should be set up quickly and report in time to feed into the 2019 Spending Review.
More detail on the government’s “long-term” proposals for NHS funding are expected to emerge in the Autumn Budget, but the plan has resulted in further delays to the publication of the green paper on social care, originally due last year.
On Monday health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs that the green paper would now not be published before the summer recess, but would be delayed until the autumn “to integrate plans for social care with the new NHS plan”.
Hunt said: “It does not make sense to publish it before the NHS plan has even been drafted, so we now intend to publish the social care green paper in the autumn around the same time as the NHS plan.”
A backlash against proposals to reform social-care funding, derided as a “dementia tax”, was widely seen as the turning point for Theresa May in last year’s snap general election, which saw the Conservative Party disastrously lose its parliamentary majority.
IfG programme director Nick Davies said putting the nation’s health and social care system on a sustainable footing would inevitably be controversial, and an independent inquiry would be a good way to depoliticise the debate.
“A parliamentary inquiry offers the best hope of building sufficient political support for a solution,” he said. “There is already cross-party support for the idea. Now it is time for the government to act.”
Elsewhere, How to fix the funding of health and social care calls for the creation of an independent body to monitor and scrutinise government spending, arguing argues that the functions could be placed in an existing institution – such as the Office for Budget Responsibility – or given to a new one.
The idea, which mirrors proposals contained in a report by ex-Labour health minister Lord Ara Darzi last week, says the move would ensure that funding increases were provided consistently over time, allowing for better planning and more efficient delivery of health and social care services.
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