In the Autumn Statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced that the NHS would receive an extra £3.3bn in each of the next two years, saying that the NHS would be one of his "key priorities".
In his statement, the former health secretary said: "Because of difficult decisions taken elsewhere today I will increase the NHS budget, in each of the next two years, by an extra £3.3bn … We commit to a record £8bn package for our health and social care system – a government putting the NHS first.”
Although this amount was more than anyone had predicted, it still falls short of what is needed. Research from the Health Foundation charity shows that when the entire health budget (which covers the NHS, training, public health services and capital investment) is taken into account, there will only be a 1.2% real-terms rise over the next two years. This falls well below the average of 2% rise for the decade before the pandemic, not to mention the historical average which is around 3.8%.
Analysis by the Nuffield Trust suggests that nearly all of the funding will be eaten up by the costs of inflation and growing demand. It says only £800m will be left to improve services.
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, told Sky that the money would allow the NHS to "just about keep the show on the road".
He said: "It will enable us to continue to manage a very difficult situation, and hopefully make further progress in areas like waiting lists.
"What it won't do is address the fundamental issues and get the NHS to where the public would like it to be."
The director of the Real Centre at the Health Foundation said that the £3.3bn represented "short-term relief" for the health service but that the NHS would be “treading water at best as inflation bites and it faces rising pressures from an ageing population, pay, addressing the backlog and continuing Covid costs”.
Chief executive of NHS England Amanda Pritchard welcomed the funding. She said it showed that “the government has been serious about its commitment to prioritise the NHS”.
Alarms are being raised by unions since health secretary Steve Barclay wrote to the NHS pay review body (NHSPRB), which advises on pay, asking them to be retrained in what they recommend for 2023. He wrote that "in the current economic context it is particularly important that you have regard to the government’s inflation target when forming recommendations."
The inflation target he is referring to stands at 2%, in contrast to the actual rate of inflation which is running at 11.1%.
The general secretary of the Unite union which represents 100,000 NHS workers, Sharon Graham, told The Guardian: "The NHSPRB board are clearly aware that without proper wages the exodus of healthcare staff will get worse, putting the very survival of the NHS at risk. The situation is clear: we are in a fight to save the NHS, and workers are ready to take a stand.”