‘Short-sighted’ autumn statement brings no money for NHS
Critics point to £1.7bn hole in NHS finances and say lack of new funding will lead to ‘even longer waits, more patients treated in corridors and perilous staffing levels’
There was no new money for the NHS in today’s autumn statement, sparking fears for patient safety and NHS services ahead of what is predicted to be a tough winter.
The RCN accused chancellor Jeremy Hunt of delivering a ‘short-sighted’ budget that focused on tax cuts while the health service was ‘entirely forgotten’.
‘Nursing staff are stretched too thin’
The college’s chief nurse Nicola Ranger accused the chancellor of squandering an opportunity to support the NHS through the winter: ‘The public sector cuts the chancellor wants instead will mean even longer waits, more patients treated in corridors and perilous staffing levels here to stay.
‘The real inefficiency to tackle is spending money on expensive agencies because you won’t invest in your own workforce – too few in education and poor pay and conditions are pushing good people out.
‘Nursing staff are stretched too thin, caring for 10, 15 or more patients at a time. Our health service needed an urgent cash injection and instead it was entirely forgotten.’
NHS Confederation director of policy Layla McCay agreed that the budget was a missed opportunity.
‘The NHS has been hit with this blow as waiting lists for treatment continue to rise, there is increasing long-term sickness in the community, and front-line services are bracing for a very challenging winter period,’ she said.
What will national insurance cut mean for nurses?
Measures introduced in today’s budget include a two-percentage point cut to national insurance (NI) from 12% to 10%. Mr Hunt said this would save the average worker on £35,000 more than £450 a year, and the average nurse around £520.
To do this Mr Hunt said he will introduce emergency legislation on 23 November to ensure the NI cut can be brought in on 6 January 2024.
Alongside this, universal credit and other benefits will increase by 6.7% from next April, in line with September’s inflation figure.
Professor Ranger said: ‘To make a political point about tax cuts, the chancellor has misrepresented nursing staff pay by basing his calculations that nurses will receive an extra £520 on the higher end of pay. Many nurses will not be saving anywhere near £520 a year because of the tax cuts that have been announced and even those who do will only be an extra £2 a day better off.’
Nuffield Trust highlights precarious NHS finances
While many will be pleased to see some more money in their pay packets, the lack of additional funding for the NHS will add further strain to the health service.
Ahead of the statement the Nuffield Trust warned that, without further investment, efforts to cut waiting times and improve NHS services will be the casualty of efforts to plug a £1.7bn financial hole in the NHS budget, partly caused by strike action by NHS staff groups including nurses.
Its analysis showed NHS finances were precarious with ‘patients likely to feel the impact, with slower progress than hoped for on tackling waiting lists, and initiatives to improve care quality and access stalled’.
Vulnerable patients will be left waiting for ‘a dangerously long time’
Responding to the analysis, Professor Ranger said: ‘Leading nurses tell me they fear the months ahead more than any previous winter.
‘Sick and vulnerable patients will be left waiting for a dangerously long time for the treatment they need.’
The lack of additional money also raises questions around nurses’ pay. The NHS Pay Review Body is expected to begin work on the 2024-25 pay award soon, but without additional money in the budget it is unlikely nurses will be offered an uplift that befits the cost-of-living crisis.
However, funding for pay awards is usually reserved for the spring budget ahead of the new financial year.
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