The NHS Cash Crisis, continued

With just two days to go until the election, the parties are once again focussing on the Health Service - specifically, how much they'll pay for it. Labour are warning of an impending "cash crisis" in the NHS. 

If it sounds familiar, it's because it, erm, is. Indeed it seems the NHS is constantly going through some sort of financial crisis. To wit: 

2004: NHS trust in cash crisis

2005: £620m deficit predicted for NHS

2006: NHS faces job cuts as financial crisis deepens

2007: Superbug deaths “linked to NHS cash crisis”

2008: Continued universal free access to care is in doubt

2009: NHS “faces huge budget shortfall”

2010: Patients denied hip surgery amid cash crisis

2011: Hospitals face cash crisis that could leave wages unpaid

2012: More than 20 NHS Trusts are in financial crisis

2013: NHS “is about to run out of cash”

2014: NHS Trusts Cash Crisis “unsustainable”

So has the NHS been getting a bad deal since 2004?

Not quite. Indeed, as my colleague Alex Wild noted in this excellent article, NHS funding nearly doubled in real terms between 2000 and 2010. Spending on the Health Service has been protected (indeed, there has been a slight increase in real terms) under the Coalition. 

Thus we can draw one of two conclusions.

The NHS has never had enough money, and needs more.

Or - and I am aware that this is bordering on heresy - the current model of funding the Health Service is basically unsustainable in the long-term. The premise that the NHS needs more money may well be true, but with an ageing population, demands on the NHS will only grow. If we continue to increase funding of the Health Service at the same rate as between 2000 and 2010, Britain would spend almost all of its revenues on the NHS by around 2050 - giving us the choice of further borrowing (with the unpleasant consequences) or shutting schools. 

Alarmist calls for political gain aside, Britain needs a proper debate about the NHS, how it is funded, and whether the service it is delivering is worthy of the budget. We are yet to have it.

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