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Funding Settlement for the health service in England

Part of NHS Funding Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 3:00 pm, 4th February 2020

There are indeed many weaknesses in the Bill, which, given that it is so short, is quite an achievement on the Government’s part. That is the point of the new clause. We cannot say with any certainty what the rate of inflation will be in a few years’ time. It is important for funding that is seen as adequate now—at least by Conservative Members, if by no one else—not to be downgraded further as a result of economic turbulence. We have had no guarantees that a different economic picture will change the Government’s stance. Indeed, when on Second Reading we sought assurances that the NHS would still receive the real-terms increases envisaged in the Bill should inflation run at unforeseen levels in the future, no commitments were forthcoming. When pressed by my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, the Secretary of State could not give the cast-iron commitments that are needed by those delivering the services. Even if this is an unsatisfactory settlement, they deserve some certainty that the sums involved will not be eroded by spikes in inflation.

As the Secretary of State said on Second Reading,

“The crucial thing in this Bill is the certainty.”—[Official Report, 27 January 2020;
Vol. 670, c. 560.]

We are not sure whether he meant certain failure, because we know that the sums set out in the Bill are not enough to keep up with demand, but the new clause seeks to ensure that the NHS is, at least to some extent, insulated against unforeseen economic shocks. It would act as a safety net in the event that inflation ran above 3.3% for more than six months in any 12-month period. It also requires a statement from the Secretary of State about whether any additional funds will be made available to supplement the sums set out in the Bill. That would at least provide some clarity and certainty about whether there will be any real-terms reduction in funding as a result of a sustained rise in inflation.

Let me finally say a little about new clause 11, and the adequacy of the allotment to NHS England. As I have already made clear, the Bill sets NHS expenditure for the next four years at a level that is not sufficient to put the NHS on a sustainable footing or to improve performance. That is why we are seeking to ensure that the impact of unforeseen changes in the costs of pharmaceutical treatments, medical devices and services—possibly as a result of our leaving the European Union, or of the trade deals that we sign—are reviewed by the Government so that adequate funds are available to meet any uplift, and so that there is no negative impact on health outcomes. Much has been said about the possibilities in new trading arrangements, but not enough about the risks, of which this is only one.