When news surfaced in the latest autumn statement that the government would not be allocating any extra funding to the NHS or social care, many healthcare workers were left feeling disappointed and discouraged. One Labour MP, however, believes he may have the answer.
While Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, promised £23bn of extra funding for infrastructure – including money towards prison reform and controversial grammar schools – no mention was made of the NHS or social care, despite leading figures in healthcare warning that the industry was in the middle of a financial crisis.
The lack of funding available – Hammond says – is down to the short term effects of Brexit, which he claims will leave a £59bn black hole in public finances over the next five years. Rather than George Osborne’s promised £11bn surplus by 2021 then, it’s now forecast that British finances will actually demonstrate a £21bn deficit – leaving sparse resources available for public spending.
Health officials in the UK have expressed dismay at the news, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell pointing out that this is the first time in history that healthcare spending per head has declined since the creation of the NHS. Head of Unison, Dave Prentis, also argued that neglecting social care was ‘a false economy’ since many elderly patients simply end up in hospital instead, putting increasing pressure on an NHS that many have already described as being at ‘tipping point’. Others have wondered whether the current reluctance to fund the NHS is just another step on the road to privatisation.
For Labour MP Frank Field, however, the current crisis in the NHS is the perfect opportunity to rethink healthcare funding entirely. Citing the John Lewis Partnership as an example, Field argues that the NHS should be run as a mutual organisation. Rather than a true cooperative, members of a mutual own the organisation and have a right to vote on the way it is run without having the right to sell off any of its assets.
Field states that all funding for the new model would come from increased National Insurance contributions, with the entirety of NI money raised going to the NHS and social care (the current figure stands at only 20% of contributions).
Field argues that running the NHS in this way would give the public more say on expenditure and the ‘culture of the organisation’. He claims the NHS is hugely popular among UK citizens and that the public would not mind paying more if this much-loved institution could be both protected and brought under their control.
Field’s idea is not without its critics though, with the majority of counter-arguments taking issue with the comparison of the NHS to a profit-making business.
Whether or not Frank Field’s plan is the answer to the NHS’ current financial crisis, it remains clear that the current model of funding is becoming increasingly unstable and that action will have to be taken to prevent collapse.