Government urged to introduce a long-term NHS funding target

The introduction of a new 'NHS Funding Rule' in England would help increase funding by £7 billion over the next five years, think-tank says.

An independent think-tank has called on the UK Government to introduce a new long-term funding target for the National Health Service (NHS) in England, as “historically-low funding settlements” threaten care outcomes and public confidence.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) say the creation of a new “NHS Funding Rule” is needed to help place the NHS on a “more sustainable trajectory” and reduce yearly calls for a one-off injection in emergency funding.

In a new report published on Thursday, supported with funding from AstraZeneca, SMF say an aging population and rising expectations for new treatments mean a long-term healthcare spending plan is urgently needed.

They also claim the move would help improve public confidence in the NHS, at a time when nine in ten believe health and social care is underfunded.

SMF claim that a long-term funding rule, similar to what is already in place for defence and international development spending, would increase NHS funding by £7 billion by 2020/21. The extra funding would be used to improve both healthcare and social care.

A rolling commitment to increase healthcare spending levels by a minimum of the rate of GDP growth would help ensure the NHS is adequately funded beyond 2021, which in turn would also improve care outcomes and public satisfaction.

The report –  ‘Targeting Better Health‘ – also calls on the UK Government to establish a small number of priority care outcomes to target every five years, such as improving cancer survival rates and better outcomes in social care. If these targets were not met, the UK Government would commit to investing additional funding to bring about the improvements.

There would need to be transparency and accountability around the targets, say SMF, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) charged with ensuring the funding rule is kept. And a new ‘Office for Patient Outcomes’ should be created to collect data on care outcomes and to ensure that the care commitments are being met.

Report author and SMF research director Nigel Keohane said: “The NHS and social care system is showing signs of severe strain off the back of historically-tight funding settlements. But, looking for the next short-term cash injection to see us through the winter is no-longer the answer. It’s time to re-set our policy and establish a spending target for healthcare.

“A healthcare spending target could provide long-term certainty, reassure the public, and ensure that the necessary funding is available to meet rising costs driven by an older population and new treatments.”

Lisa Anson, Country President, AstraZeneca UK and Ireland, added: “As a company that is committed to working in partnership with the Government and NHS to benefit patients, and a company that has invested £2 billion in R&D associated with our UK operations in 2015, AstraZeneca is pleased to support this important and timely contribution to the debate around future health funding.

“Sustainable, predictable long-term investment in the NHS is essential for driving improved patient outcomes, particularly in key areas where the UK is lagging, and for providing the necessary headroom for investment in innovative technologies ensuring a world class health system and a thriving life sciences sector.”