Jeremy Hunt has come out swinging against criticism of the government’s NHS policy, suggesting that the problems of the health service are not caused by funding alone.
Claims have been made by prominent NHS experts that there is a massive gulf between the government’s claim that the NHS had been awarded an additional £10 billion of funding, and the reality.
Estimates by independent organisations that have put the “true” figure at about £4.5 billion; obviously less than half of the amount claimed by the authorities.
Commenting on the issue, Nigel Edwards, the Nuffield Trust’s chief executive, warned that the winter months could be particularly challenging.
“The NHS is going into its toughest winter yet with the odds stacked against it. Demand for healthcare is on the rise, funding for both health and social care is being squeezed and A&E departments are missing their targets.”
Yet Hunt has dismissed the suggestion that the performance of the NHS Is suffering because of a lack of funding
“We do tend to get in the run-up to the autumn statement a coalition of people who will say that the answer to all the NHS’s problems is more money from government. The big question is: does the NHS have enough money, and the answer to that is that we do need more resources – we are looking after a million more people aged over 75 than five years ago. That’s why we are putting in £4 billion more. It isn’t just about money – it’s also about standards.”
Hunt suggested that a process of learning and best practice could seriously aid the NHS going forward.
“There’s lots of things we can do in terms of helping to ensure we are better at learning from mistakes, so that we don’t have this huge legislation bill of £1.5bn because of some of the mistakes we have made – that all helps on the money front. There are, of course, financial pressures, but I think it’s a mistake to say this is only about money. It’s also about getting the culture right.”
The health secretary also claimed that the NHS is well placed to cope with raised demand this winter.
“I can say I think we are better prepared this year than we have ever been. There’s always the unpredictable, the cold spells, the flu outbreaks and so on…I think it would be wrong for any health secretary in the run-up to winter to say everything’s tickety-boo.”
Yet independent assessments suggest that the NHS will seriously struggle to cope over winter, with the most pessimistic estimates indicating that the entire system could break down in a worst-case scenario.