Everyone is asking whether NHS can be protected from cuts?
Under Labour, Gordon Brown has promised to ‘fight for a better NHS’, David Cameron says the Conservatives will cut the deficit, not the NHS, while Nick Clegg says his party the Liberal Democrats’ will protect NHS front-line services like dementia and cancer care.
Despite no politician willing to be seen making cuts to the NHS, the reality is whoever forms the government after 6th May, given the state of UK finances will be under pressure to reduce healthcare costs.
The NHS is a huge part of public spending, with £102 billion, the budget for England alone this financial year, a figure reached after record increases. Health service spending has grown at record levels of 6.6% every year in the last decade.
There are no Liberal Democrat promises after this financial year, whereas Labour says there the next two years will see inflation-only increases. Real-term increases have been promised by the Conservatives throughout the next Parliament, which is unlikely to be more than inflation plus a small amount.
In plain terms, it means health service is facing a big financial shock, as even the smallest increase in spending above inflation will not be able to keep pace with rising healthcare costs.
An ageing population, lifestyle linked diseases, such as, obesity including the rising cost of new technologies and medicines, are all putting increasing pressure on health services.
The King’s Fund, an independent think tank and the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates the rising number of older people needing treatment is between roughly £1 billion and £1.4 billion a year.
While, it is harder to quantify the impact of changing lifestyles, there is a consensus the burden of disease is growing, with health economists estimating new treatments and technologies will add between 0.5% and 0.75% to costs i. e. at least £500 million a year to NHS budgets.
The evaluation of new medicine by the NHS in England gives some idea of the impact this can have, as Dronedarone, a new drug to treat abnormal heart rhythms costs £2.25 a day, while Amiodarone, an older medicine costs just 5 pence a day.
According to rough estimates around 190,000 patients would benefit from the new drug, however, all of them switching would mean a rise in cost from around £3.4 million to £156 million a year for the NHS.
Already, the NHS in England has been warned £15 billion to £20 billion in efficiency savings need to be found by 2014, figures all three main parties have accepted, and cuts to management and administration costs is the favourite explanation for managing it.