As NHS trusts are forecasting a collective deficit of over £2 billion in the 2015-16 financial year, the news that the NHS is expected to receive a £3.8 billion increase in the current spending review is timely and welcome.
The increase will not take effect until next year and represents a rise of almost 4% for NHS England. The funding boost forms part of a wider government plan to fulfil the pledges made in the run-up to the last election to increase NHS spending over the life of the current Parliament.
However, many argue that the NHS needs more money now to deal with the current year's deficit and to deliver healthcare at a time when hospitals are already missing key targets. Recent news reports have highlighted delays in A&E waiting times, in ambulance response times, and in the number of days that cancer patients spend waiting for treatment.
Others have voiced concerns about where the money to fund the NHS's increase might be coming from. Details are yet to be published on how the spending review will affect NHS staff training, health visitors and council funding for local public health initiatives. It has been said that cutting these budgets to deliver the increase for NHS England would be a false economy.
The need for better and more integrated social care is also an area of concern, particularly after cuts to local authority budgets have reduced the number of people benefiting from home help or local care homes. These all have an impact on the demands the NHS faces.
The Government is associating the increase in NHS funding with seven-day access to healthcare and reform of patient services. It remains to be seen whether this can be achieved in the wider context of increasing demand for health services and with funding cuts elsewhere in the social care and welfare systems. The impact of this increase will undoubtedly be subject to close scrutiny.