A big NHS squeeze is coming

Thursday, 9th September 2021

NHS and money artwork

‘The NHS was on its knees long before the pandemic hit’

THE government’s tax rise announcements were always going to divide opinion.

The 1.25 percentage point rise in National Insurance has been slammed in the right-wing press as an unprece­dented “raid” on the public purse.

Meanwhile, the Left has castigated it as pitiful half measures that will not come close to addressing the latest mounting crisis in the NHS.

Whichever side of the political fence you sit on, you can bet your National Insurance contributions that a big NHS squeeze is coming down the line. And when that big squeeze comes it is the mental health service that will be hit the most severely.

Unlike previous health care spending announcements, there is no mention of additional funding for mental health support.

This is sure to be in the forefront of the minds of the new batch of governors starting their positions at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust next week.

The NHS will now become forensically focused on reducing the “backlog” back to pre-pandemic levels.

Senior managers will be obsessing about this like they have obsessed in years gone by on balancing their books. There is no doubt existing services will be reduced or sidelined as a result.

The past 18 months have been surreal for everyone in the health service. On the one hand, health workers and management have been put under immeasurable stress because of the ravages of the Covid pandemic.

On the other hand, the health service was furnished with almost unlimited resources that enabled it to focus on doing what it does best: helping people in an emergency.

Since the first lockdown, financial penalties levied at NHS trusts that miss referral-to-treatment targets, or have unacceptable numbers of patients waiting more than a year for basic operations, were taken off the table.

Target-based funding, introduced in the Blair era to ramp-up competition between hospitals, was temporarily done away with.

As hospital beds became filled entirely with Covid patients, planned surgery had to be cancelled and the back­log grew to unprecedented levels. This was, of course, entirely avoidable and a consequence of cuts made during the austerity years.

A decade ago, 100 hospital beds reserved for mental health patients were axed in Camden. Health chiefs justified the cuts saying they were no longer needed.

When this proved not to be the case a few years down the line, tens of millions of pounds were spent on hiring beds from private providers.

The NHS was on its knees long before the pandemic hit. It was only through the crisis that this became plain for all to see.

Had the NHS been properly staffed and equipped before the pandemic hit, we would not be in the mess we find ourselves in today.

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