The end of year financial results for the NHS are truly shocking, writes David Ellesmere, Leader of Ipswich Borough Council.
The deficit of £2.45 billion is the biggest in the history of the NHS – three times the deficit last year.
You can tell things are bad when the best that the Government’s spin doctors can come up with is that they’d expected the figures to be worse.
In fact, this is very positive spin because the finances of the NHS are in an even worse state than these figures would suggest.
They have taken money set aside for replacing and repairing worn out equipment and buildings and used it instead to plug some of the funding gap.
Another trick was to claim for 15 months of VAT rebates.
The downside of these shenanigans is pretty obvious.
If 15 months of VAT rebates are claimed this year, then there are only going to be nine months available next year.
The capital expenditure for buildings and equipment is a one-off. It won’t be available next year and, in the meantime hospitals will be struggling on with the old equipment that should have been replaced.
Breakdowns will become more frequent, leading to delayed treatments and expensive repairs. As well as patients on trolleys in hospital corridors there will be buckets to catch the drips from the leaking roof.
By trying – and comprehensively failing – to make the NHS finances look better in the short term the Government has ensured that things are going to be even worse next year.
The true deficit is estimated to be at least a billion pounds higher than the official figures.
This means that the extra money that the Government is putting into the NHS from April will be almost entirely swallowed up paying off the debts built up last year.
There won’t be anything left for plugging the gap this year or, God forbid, to improve treatment.
And of course this is the real consequence of the Government’s financial mismanagement.
The “Improvement NHS” end of year report is a sea of red representing missed treatment targets.
The 18-week treatment target: missed.
A&E performance targets: missed.
Urgent GP referral to treatment for cancer: missed.
The 6-week target for diagnostic tests: missed.
Ambulance Red 1, Red 2 and Category A call response targets: missed, missed and missed.
What’s striking is that the start of the real problems in the NHS coincided exactly with the introduction of the Government’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
Up to that point NHS finances were relatively stable, recording surpluses of around £500 million a year, year and after year. From 2013 the finances fell off a cliff.
This is a problem entirely of the Government’s own making, a mixture of deliberate policy and sheer incompetence.
It is the iron law of politics in Britain: you cannot trust the Tories with the NHS.