The National Health Service will continue to face huge pressure irrespective of who wins the General Election because no party has promised enough money to keep up with rising demand, according to a leading health think-tank.
NHS funding was at the heart of manifesto promises from all the main parties last week, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all pledging to increase spending.
Analysis of the manifesto pledges by the Nuffield Trust, however, has found that all three fell short of even the most modest forecasts of spending required to keep pace with rising demand of 3-4% per year.
They concluded that NHS spending will fall as a proportion of GDP irrespective of the new Government. By this measure the UK’s health spending is already among the lowest in the G8 group of developed nations.
The findings raise the prospect that the NHS will continue to struggle with a funding gap, with services potentially rationed and a possible impact on the quality of care to patients.
The Nuffield Trust analysis comes as a poll for independent charity the Health Foundation, seen by Sky News, reveals that almost two thirds (64%) of adults support increasing taxes to fund the NHS, and 88% believe it should be protected from cuts.
The NHS England budget for 2017-18 is £124bn and, under current Government plans, it was due to rise to £126bn by 2020, an increase of less than 1% that constitutes the slowest rate of growth in the service’s 69-year history.
The Nuffield Trust used four different scenarios of NHS spending by the end of the new Parliament, setting a range of between £137bn to £155bn required in 2022-23. All three parties fall short of that range.
The Liberal Democrats pledged an extra £6bn for health and social care across the UK, amounting to £132.2bn for the NHS in England by 2022/23 according to the Nuffield Trust.
The Trust said Labour has committed an additional £8bn across the Parliament, taking spending to £135.3bn in five years’ time.
The Conservatives’ commitment of a minimum £8bn increase in real terms is not fully explained in their manifesto, but the Trust estimates it could bring total NHS England spending to £131.7bn.
Report author and Nuffield Trust senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said: “How much we spend on the NHS is a choice that always involves a cost of some sort.
“But equally, not spending more also implies a cost, in terms of longer waits and deteriorating quality of care for patients, and failing to keep up with the latest drugs and medical treatments that may become available in other countries.”
The Health Foundation poll of almost 2,000 people by Ipsos-Mori appeared to demonstrate public sympathy for higher taxation to fund healthcare.