An unhealthy budget: The SoR responds to £9bn cuts

The SoR have declared the 3 March budget a missed opportunity to consolidate improved health spending and identify worrying signposts for future NHS funding after Chancellor Rishi Sunak cut health and social care spending by £9bn in 2021-22.

Published: 04 March 2021 Government & NHS

SoR Director of Industrial Strategy and Member Relations Dean Rogers said: ‘We agree with NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson in arguing that the NHS budget should have stayed as it was for this year. 

‘Covid isn’t over by a long way and the budget for NHS England was forecast to reach current levels of £148bn by 2023-24 anyway. Underfunding has been built into the NHS for years and this was a chance to accelerate our catch-up, introduce some breathing space and add some stability as the NHS emerges out of the pandemic.’

The Chancellor signalled a return to the pre-Covid spending plans, which the SoR and many other NHS organisations estimate would not be enough to catch up with health and social care spending in other major economies.

Although the NHS health budget is set independently in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the funding formula from Westminster largely dictates the room for variation.

Dean added: ‘The two things most prominently signposted by this budget are really worrying. Firstly, there isn’t enough money being allocated to meet a credible NHS Pay Award in 2021-22 – at least not without Trusts either making other cuts or overspending and re-establishing the debt the Government has sought to ease during the pandemic. 

‘Freezing personal tax allowances means if pay rises merely reflect inflation over the next few years nearly all NHS staff will be worse off in real terms with no reward for their significant contribution during the Covid crisis.’

Dean said, secondly, that the budget signals unstable future spending on health, hindering the long-term planning and investment needed. 

‘Trust and Board leaders faced with choices will put off buying those new scanners until the old ones have stopped working for example. It’s a massively short sighted approach. It’s a political approach. The NHS can’t go on being a political football.’

He continued: ‘Like many, we don’t expect this budget to be a settlement. We’re sure there will be more one-off announcements of a bit extra here and there to maximise the political capital from the NHS. 

‘If Covid needs extra money the Chancellor will have to carry on finding it. That may arguably extend to pay and I’m sure some NHS leaders will try to find creative ways to put other expenses on the Covid spreadsheet. But what’s disappointing is the signal about getting used to uncertainty again. It really looks and feels like a missed opportunity.’