The Leicester Mercury published a report earlier this week on Leicestershire County Council’s “concerns about how to find hundreds of millions of pounds needed to pay for new roads and schools to cope with Leicestershire’s population growth.” (‘Cash-strapped Leicestershire County Council says it needs £600m to cope with rapidly growing population’, June 4, 2019)
The article states that “currently just under 700,000 people live in the county, but projections say that number will rise by 16 per cent over the next 25 years”.
Across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (LLR) as a whole, population growth will be even larger over a shorter period. According to strategic growth plans for LLR, housing plans point to 120,780 additional dwellings housing 277,794 additional residents over the next 18 years.
Funding crisis for public services
Leicestershire County Council are right to point out the necessity of expanding services given the planned growth in population. But the fact that meeting these needs has become such a problem has to do with principally one thing: austerity.
Since 2010, central government funding for local councils has been cut by more than 50%, stripping public services to the bone. With poverty on the increase due to a decade of stagnating wages, spiralling costs of living, and increased casualisation of working conditions (with close to 1million people now on zero hour contracts), more and more people have come to depend on an ever-dwindling pool of services.
The NHS has suffered a similar fate. Last year, the Kings Fund, an independent charity, produced a report on ‘The NHS budget and how it has changed’. It states that:
“Though funding for the Department of Health continues to grow, the rate of growth has slowed considerably compared to historical trends. The Department of Health budget will grow by 1.2 per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2020/21. This is far below the long-term average increases in health spending of approximately 4 per cent a year (above inflation) since the NHS was established and the rate of increase needed based on projections by the Office of Budget Responsibility (4.3 per cent a year).”
So, while funding has continued to increase, it has done so at historically low levels, making it insufficient to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population. Amongst other things, this has destabilised services and contributed to a shortage of more than 100,000 NHS staff nationally.[i]
Cuts to NHS funding in LLR and the response of the local NHS Trust
As many will remember, in the winter of 2017-2018 thousands of operations were cancelled in LLR due to a lack of beds– with local hospitals unable to deal with emergency admissions and planned (elective) care at the same time.
This is why it is so alarming that University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) NHS Trust’s plans to reorganise our local hospitals do not include an increase in the number of beds, despite planned population growth and ongoing issues with capacity.
UHL have responded to this by arguing that an expansion in community services and different pathways of care will offset rising need for hospital care. But massive underfunding in the NHS alongside cuts to local government spending (mentioned above) means that community-based care is in crisis.
At a recent Save Our NHS Leicestershire public meeting on April 6, Mark Wightman, UHL’s spokesperson, admitted that the biggest risk in the Trust’s current plans is that community services would not be able to make up for a standstill in the number of beds.
This is cause for serious concern. UHL’s local NHS leaders have a poor track record of capacity planning – repeatedly building in excessively optimistic assumptions about the ability of community services to compensate for a lack of beds. This is one of the reasons why their 2014 plans to remove 427 beds (24% of the total of the Trust’s 1773 day and overnight beds) were junked. Campaigners fought tirelessly then to expose inadequacies in the Trust’s plans and, in this case, were successful. The same must be done today.
Britain is the 5th richest country in the world. If we could afford to bail out the banks to the tune of hundreds of billions of pounds in 2008, then we can afford properly funded public services today, including a world class health service.
It is a matter of priorities as to who gets bailed out: the super-rich, or the many millions who are struggling to make ends meet and who depend on the NHS?
What is essential is that those who oppose the destruction of our NHS get involved with campaign groups. As John Lister, one of the founding members of Health Campaigns Together, stated in a recent article on health services in LLR:
“One reason local [NHS] services [in LLR] have remained largely intact has been the consistent challenge by local campaigners. The Campaign Against NHS Privatisation, and newly formed Save Our NHS Leicestershire along with the Leicester Mercury Patients Panel have staged demonstrations, held public meetings, drafted responses, tabled Freedom of Information Act requests, submitted questions, lobbied and briefed local council bodies and MPs.”
To get involved with Save Our NHS Leicestershire, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org 0r 07896 841 902.
[i] Although in June 2018, under immense public pressure, Theresa May promised to restore funding to an annual growth of 3.4% over the next 5 years (as part of the NHS’s 70th Birthday Present), serious damage has already been done through sustained underfunding. The Health Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the NHS needs something along the lines of a 5% annual increase over the next 5 years to make a “modest improvements” on its current situation. After five years has passed, it would still require an extra 4% a year to maintain standards. https://www.health.org.uk/chart/chart-is-the-recent-funding-announcement-enough-for-nhs-england