Health secretary: Austerity has not contributed to NHS woes

Spending restraint in the NHS through the 2010s has not contributed to the health services’ current woes, the health secretary has insisted. 

Steve Barclay rejected the findings of a King’s Fund report from April, which said the NHS had “declined since 2010, as a result of much lower funding increases, limited funds for capital investment and neglect of workforce planning”.

Speaking to Sky News ahead of the NHS’ 75th anniversary celebrations, he explained: “In the period between 2010 and 15, when there was a coalition government, we were dealing with the consequences of the financial crash under the previous government in 2008. And difficult decisions had to be taken in that period”.

He added: “Of all the departments that the Cameron-Clegg government protected, actually Health was more protected than other departments. But it is the case, we’ve had an older population, medical advances, costs have increased”.

The King’s Fund report, put to Mr Barclay, details: “Multi-year funding increases and a series of reforms resulted in major improvements in NHS performance between 2000 and 2010”.

The report, authored by Professor Chris Ham, adds: “The coalition government (2010–15) and successive Conservative governments since then have failed to heed the warning signs of deteriorating performance and preferred to use short-term fixes rather than seek long-term solution”.

David Cameron, who became prime minister as part of a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, sported campaign posters promising to “cut the deficit, not the NHS” during the 2010 general election campaign. 

From 2010, there was a focus on protecting funding for the day-to-day running costs of the NHS. However, for much of the decade, the protection of NHS services was only protection relative to the cuts other public services faced, not funding rising in line with historical growth in NHS spending or demand for services.

Mr Cameron opted to reduce the NHS’s annual budget increases from Labour’s 3.6% to an average of just 1.5% as the key reason for the service’s loss of capacity.

Pressed this morning on the question of whether spending cuts were a contributory factor in the growing waiting lists and poor performance of the health service, Mr Barclay said: “We’re investing in our workforce, in our NHS estate, in the latest technology. That is how we build a sustainable NHS for the future”.

Addressing the 75th anniversary of the health service, Mr Barclay continued: “I think the NHS really is at the heart of our national life. So whilst its scale has changed, its ability to save lives and treat people has advanced massively. It’s also stayed very true to itself, and if you look at, for example, the late Her Majesty the Queen awarding the George Cross to the NHS, that just underscores just how central it is to the British public.”