The Health Foundation warns that the Government must not be short-sighted by neglecting longer term investment in health and social care.

In a new report published today (24/11/2020), the Health Foundation cautions that the Government must adequately invest in the future of health and social care post-Covid.  

The charity estimates that this year and next Covid-19 alone is likely to result in extra health service costs of around £40 billion a year. While the majority of these costs are temporary and directly related to managing the pandemic, such as additional PPE and the new test and trace system, a significant portion of costs will continue to require funding beyond the end of the pandemic.  

NHS Providers Chief Executive Chris Hopson said that the Health Foundation’s report “provides a valuable point of reference to evaluate the financial impact of Covid-19 and the Government’s response continuing support for health and care.” 

Expected £3 billion for the NHS “not enough”  

The Health Foundation says that the proposed spending review allocation of an extra £3 billion for the NHS will go “some way” in helping tackle the treatment backlog and support mental health services. But the charity adds that a one-off cash injection will not suffice. Instead, support for health and social care services must be sustained.  

The Foundation’s analysis indicates that beyond next year the health service could still require ongoing funding increases of around £10 billion per year by 2023/24 in order to address the backlog of care, meet rising demands for mental health provision and deliver the service improvements set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. The report emphasises a need for continued investment in public health of £3 billion a year, and increases to workforce training and capital of around £1 billion each. Furthermore, they estimate that adult social care – a chronically underfunded area of care – will need an additional £6.1 billion in 2021/22 (on top of any specific Covid-related costs), rising to £11 billion by 2023/24. 

Health Foundation Chief Executive, Dr Jennifer Dixon, said: “The cost of these big investments is daunting but the cost of not investing is likely to be even greater – the backlog in care could be dwarfed by a bigger ‘frontlog.’  

“This investment in the future will signal that work has begun on the Government’s ambition to build back better, and healthier too.” 

Reducing debt now poses “significantly worse” problems down the line  

The immediate costs of the pandemic have caused an unprecedented spike in public borrowing, taking the United Kingdom’s debt to GDP ratio above 100%. In spite of this monumental increase, the Foundation’s report cautions the Government against reducing debt by cutting non-NHS services in the future and underfunding the NHS and social care, saying that permanent underfunding will leave services “destined only to respond to acute needs, unable to prevent ill-health or enable healthier lives”. As such, the Foundation recommends a higher tax to GDP ratio in the medium term.  

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The Government has major challenges ahead but now is not the time to close the chequebook as this will only create significantly worse problems down the line.”