Though Theresa May’s announcement of an extra £20billion a year for the National Health Service by 2023 is welcome, surely the voting public will not stand for being yet again hoodwinked by an increasingly desperate and divided Government.
This vague promise represents an annual increase of a meagre 3.4 per cent, which is below what the independent Health Foundation states as necessary to maintain the current range and quality of Services. Though, this extra funding may temporarily offset an immediate disaster, that’s all it will do. The current planning of the healthcare budget makes little provision for the increased demands of an ageing population, preventative treatments, the greater scope and rising costs of medical procedures and the drain on NHS resources caused by the underfunding of social care. This Government currently spends less of our Gross Domestic Product on healthcare than countries such as France and Germany. To match their commitment, the NHS would require an increase in spending of over 10 per cent.
Here in Cumbria we also have the disastrous legacy of the Private Finance initiative: the cost to the Cumberland Infirmary will be over £600million during the life-span of the contract when it cost only £65 million to build in the first place.
Whether a supporter of Brexit or not, it is beyond ridiculous to suggest that this funding windfall will significantly come from what we save on leaving the EU. Last year our contribution to the EU was £18billion. However, it is estimated that the up-front cost of leaving the EU is around £37billion, it is likely that we will continue to contribute £4billion in subsidies to pan-European projects and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the economic hit of Brexit will be £15billion a year (totalling £56billion). That leaves a shortfall of £38billion that must be found through tax rises and borrowing even before the Government looks for the promised £20billion for the NHS.
Far-right Tories such as Boris Johnson, David Davis, Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove may appreciate this obsequious gesture from Theresa May, though they all know that the reality is that there is no Brexit dividend and the more moderate wing of the party is not afraid to say so. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who is chair the influential Commons health and social care committee and is also a doctor, tweeted, “The Brexit dividend tosh was expected but treats the public as fools,” whilst Anna Soubry MP tweeted, “Just don’t peddle the nonsense that there is some Brexit dividend, there isn’t, any more than there’s a magic money tree”.
Perhaps what is behind all of this is that, whilst it is against every Tory instinct to talk about increased borrowing and taxes, they know that the NHS is in crisis and, unless they set about improving the funding of this hugely popular public service, the condition of their party may be terminal.