The Government has announced that the NHS England budget will increase by £20.5 billion in real (inflation-adjusted) terms per annum by 2023. This is very close to the amount which I called for in my Newsletter article of February this year and I welcome it. Such an increase would put health funding here on a par (as a percentage of national income) with that in France and Germany. The funding increase comes alongside a ten-year plan to ensure that the NHS will deliver world-class care for all.
When the Health Secretary announced this in the House of Commons, I pointed out that there are major discrepancies in health funding between different parts of the country. I fully understand that costs are higher and the needs may be a little greater in some places than others. However there is no justification which I can see for funding allocations in some places being 25% per head greater in (say) Sunderland than Staffordshire.
One of the arguments used in the past for not reducing the differentials has been that, in a time of financial constraint, it is not possible to reduce funding for better-funded places in order to increase funding elsewhere. However over a period when funding is now expected to grow by 3.4pc every year in real terms, we have an opportunity to reduce the gap and achieve fairer funding.
I also stressed to the Health Secretary – as many MPs did – the importance of public health and preventative work. Good diet and exercise are as vital to the nation’s health as new treatments. However the small amount which is spent on public health is an easy target for cuts as the work is not as visible as – for instance – an A&E Department. Public health funding needs to be restored and protected.
Health visitors also carry out very important work which is greatly appreciated particularly by families with babies and young children. Having spoken with local health visitors at my surgery in Penkridge, I asked last week for a debate on investment in the health visiting service. It is another part of the NHS where early support and advice is so valuable.
It was a pleasure to be able to see athletes from Stafford Borough schools competing at Northwood Stadium in Stoke earlier this month. It is grass roots athletics at schools, colleges and clubs which nurtures the Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European champions of the future. Most of the coaching and organisation is carried out by dedicated volunteers who are determined to ensure that young people in Staffordshire and Stoke have the chance to fulfil their potential. I would like to thank all of you – and the volunteers in so many other sports – who give up your time so willingly.