The lower economic growth caused by Brexit will leave the government unable to pay for its proposed “Long Term Plan” for the NHS in England, with the PM’s “Brexit dividend” already proved to be a lie.
On Monday, Theresa May outlined her plans for the NHS over the next decade with a pledge to add a further £20bn in funding to the struggling health service by 2023. The PM hailed the plan as a “truly historic” change to the NHS, with specific extra funding for mental health and community care.
However, at a time when “performance targets are being missed all year round” and “the system is short of 100,000 doctors, nurses, and other staff” according to the BMJ, it is unclear where the money will come from to pay for the plans or how progress will be checked along the way.
The 3.4% real terms increases in funding over the next five years is more than offered to the NHS in recent Conservative governments, but it is only the long-term average for the health service and significant additional efficiency savings will be needed to fund services for the UK’s ageing population.
The government provided no details on where it will find the extra £20bn to invest in the NHS, and the PM’s claim in June that additional funds could be found in a so-called “Brexit dividend” have proved to be false. The UK may stop paying money into the EU when it leaves the union, the decline in growth from leaving the world’s biggest single market will result in bigger losses than any savings according to the government’s own assessments.
Over the summer, Conservative MP and Commons Health and Social Care Committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston described the idea of a Brexit dividend as “tosh”. She said:
“The Brexit dividend tosh was expected but treats the public as fools. Sad to see the government slide to populist arguments rather than evidence on such an important issue. This will make it harder to have a rational debate about the ‘who and how’ of funding and sharing this fairly.”
Labour have attacked the plan. Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said May was just trying to “clear up a mess that she has made” and telling the BBC’s Andrew Neil “the funding isn’t sufficient and the staffing isn’t there”.
Unions have also made clear their concerns that staffing shortages will undermine the plan. One in 11 posts in the NHS is currently vacant, and that number is expected to rise with EU nationals working as doctors, nurses, and other members of staff continue leave Britain due to Brexit.