Strong on the short-term coronavirus challenge, desperately weak on the long-term health challenges – the Patients Association’s response to the Budget

Responding to today’s Budget, the Patients Association’s Chief Executive Rachel Power said: “We commend the Chancellor’s vigorous response to the short-term challenge of coronavirus. We only wish he had shown the same focus on the long-term problems that are mounting up for patients across the country.

“The Budget offered no recognition of the collapse in NHS performance over the last few winters, with hospitals now in year-round crisis conditions, and more and more people struggling to access appointments, medicines and treatments. The total absence of any new commitment on social care is disgraceful - the Prime Minister’s promise on the day he took office is now in tatters. We have still yet to see any evidence of a strategic approach to health and wellbeing that aligns all areas of government policy to implement a coherent vision.”

The Patients Association’s Head of Policy, John Kell, added: “The Chancellor has utilised a barrage of the mechanisms available to him in the fight against coronavirus, including measures to ease financial pressures on both people who become infected, and the organisations that employ them and might struggle to bear the cost. Refunding statutory sick pay for SMEs and temporarily removing requirements for fit notes for coronavirus patients are useful, targeted measures.

“The £5 billion COVID-19 response fund is welcome, and as it can be used for social care as well as the NHS we expect local authorities to try to maximise their uptake of it, in the absence of any new social care settlement.

“In our pre-Budget submission, we called on the Chancellor to be frank with the British people about the fact that high quality public services need to be paid for. In reaching for an increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge, and the old chestnut of another clampdown on aggressive tax avoidance, he has ducked that challenge, much as his predecessors did.

“The NHS’s funding settlement from 2018 contained gaps in respect of workforce development and infrastructure; today’s Budget finally answers those questions, with an extra £6billion for training and recruitment over this parliament – not per annum – and £683million more for capital spending in 2020-21. We will need to see more detail on how that money will be deployed, but it is striking that there is no significant new investment in prevention and public health. Without this, we are likely to continue building up intractable and expensive health problems across the population over the long term.

“Looking beyond health and care, the overall increase in departmental budgets across government appears substantial at first glance, although it includes the re-deployment of funds previously contributed to the EU, so either they will be used for replacement programmes, or previous EU funding for some things will not be replaced.

“The Budget also confirms that the Government’s manifesto commitment to deliver free hospital parking to some patients and relatives will be delivered. While this is welcome, we can expect upset and arguments over who is eligible and who isn’t; a full NHS funding settlement, plus investment in other transport options, would have been a better way to fix the car parking issue."

March 11th 2020