2016 was hardly the year for good news when it came to the NHS and social care, with ever increasing cuts, staff shortages, and funding gaps leading to industry experts warning of a health service in crisis.
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like things are likely to improve this year either; from a government overwhelmed by Brexit to the appointment of Trump as president, could 2017 be the year we lose socially-funded healthcare entirely?
Beyond Crisis Point
Last year, stories of hospitals running out of beds and patients dying in hallways dominated the headlines, yet it seems little is being done to rectify the huge shortfalls in funding being felt nationwide.
Theresa May’s government has promised just £8bn to the NHS – an amount regarded by most industry figures as hugely insufficient – while social care was disregarded entirely in the latest Autumn Statement, only receiving a temporary boost from the announcement that local authorities would be able to increase council tax to cover shortages.
Still, this is money that has now been diverted from new homes (£240m, to be exact) and the extra funds raised can only amount to £900m – a drop in the ocean considering the £1.9bn shortfall predicted for this new year alone.
That’s not to say the government isn’t making plans. Theresa May has claimed that the government is “starting internally to look” at social care issues at least. However, there was no mention of help for the NHS and, until actual details emerge on what the new long-term plan is for social care, it’s hard to feel anything but disappointment that the cabinet is only now starting to look at issues that have already thrown healthcare into crisis.
Is Privatisation on the Cards?
It seems then, that the NHS and Social Care can go one of two ways this year – either undergo a complete overhaul regarding funding or to succumb to pressure and gradually begin turning services over to private healthcare firms.
Three Commons select committee chairs have sent a letter to the PM calling strongly for the former. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston and Labour MPs Meg Hillier and Clive Betts wrote a joint letter calling for NHS and social care to be amalgamated, with the consensus being that many issues – such as beds being taken up by those not able to find social care and an increase in NHS patients due to a lack of social care – could be resolved if the two industries were brought under one umbrella.
It is also thought that extra funding made available for locum workers could help alleviate some of the pressure on understaffed GPs and A&Es.
The fear however, is that a government swamped by foreign policy will have no time for domestic policy in 2017. With so much time and energy focussed on Brexit negotiations and new trade deals, it seems there’ll be little left to dedicate to improving healthcare. Bitter news, especially for those who voted ‘Leave’ based on promises of redirecting EU payments to the NHS.
With huge NHS contracts already being handed over to private firms like Virgin Care and Theresa May calling for a newly strengthened relationship with President Trump – who is already rolling back healthcare in his own country – we can only hope 2017 won’t be the year British healthcare takes the final steps on the road to privatisation.
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