Politics

Labour attacks Javid over lack of clarity on NHS budget with just weeks to go

Labour has written to ministers urging them to keep funding in place to help free up hospital beds and help the NHS cope with a crisis in patient demand.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told health secretary Sajid Javid that the NHS needed urgent clarity on the money available to it from beyond the end of September.

Specifically, his letter warned money was needed to keep in place an initiative started before the first Covid wave which saw patients discharged back into the community with the NHS paying for up to six weeks of care.

This has been credited with releasing 30,000 NHS beds that were the available for Covid patients or for hospitals to use for patients waiting for surgery and other treatment.

The government has only agreed a budget for the NHS until the end of September with negotiations between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and the Treasury ongoing.

In his letter to Sajid Javid, Jonathan Ashworth said the health service needed “immediate certainty” adding: “The service is in a summer crisis, with huge numbers of people in need of urgent and emergency care, record calls to ambulance services, and a soaring waiting list.

“With only 16 days to the beginning of September, it is incredible that the service still does not have the budgetary clarity it needs to make major decisions about service planning.”

“In the first few days of your tenure as secretary of state, you said that you wanted to give the NHS what it needs to recover from the pandemic. The NHS will now be wondering why you have not made a decision on this budget. Patients and NHS staff will consider this a test of whether you are true to your word to them.”

He said the discharge to assess programme had been praised by the new NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard as well as NHS England’s director of strategy Ian Dodge.

Mr Ashworth added: “Given the lack of any decision on extension of the funding, it is not clear whether your department or this Government are listening. NHS Providers and NHS Confederation had called for a decision to be made on this by mid-August. Regrettably, that deadline has now passed. This indecision and lack of clarity cannot be allowed to continue further.”

His comments come as the latest NHS data shows a total waiting list of 5.5 million people, with 304,000 waiting over a year for treatment. More than one million 999 calls were made to ambulance trusts in July – the highest ever number ever recorded.

Mr Ashworth challenged the health secretary over what assessment the DHSC had made of the impact of the discharge to assess funding and whether the government accepted the view of NHS England’s Ian Dodge that continuing the scheme would be vital to the NHS recovering its backlog of operations.

While negotiations over NHS England’s budget continue, the Health Service Journal, has reported NHS trusts have been told to plan on the basis of needing to make 1.5 per cent cost savings for the rest of the year.

Before the coronavirus crisis NHS England had signed hospitals up to a target of 1.1 per cent savings.

Sally Gainsbury, senior policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust, told the HSJ: “We would warn the NHS against agreeing to what would be yet another settlement which assumes huge and unachievable levels of efficiency.

“There’s covid, but you also just have to look at the NHS financial performance in recent years to see this is an unrealistic target.”

The Department of Health and Social Care were approached for comment.

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