“The Government has, once again, provided much needed funds for the NHS. The social care sector has, for the most part, been left to ‘go it alone’ in the absence of a detailed plan for reform upon which policymakers, commissioners and providers are agreed. Directors of Adult Social Services are increasingly concerned about provider stability – as are we - with a bleak mid-Winter in prospect.” Annemarie Naylor, FCC Director of Policy and Strategy
In presenting his Spending Review this week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the health and economic emergencies that are, by now, inextricably linked.
The Chancellor warned that whilst the situation remains fluid, the damage flowing from COVID-19 meant tough choices had to be made. The implications were writ large in the disparity between investment in research and development for the long-term and the funding made available for heath and care services over the coming year:
· The Government has committed £3bn in additional funds for the NHS to help it recover from the impact of COVID-19. It has, also, agreed to maintain the additional £1bn in funds for social care agreed to in 2020-21 and to provide new funding of £300m for children and adults social care, whilst affording Local Authorities the flexibility to raise additional revenue to fund social care at a local level.
· The Government is providing a DHSC research and development (R&D) budget of £1.3bn to fund the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Genomics England to further their research into better patient outcomes and to support the wider UK life sciences sector. SR20 also provides £559m to support the modernisation of technology across the health and care system, which includes funding for the NHSx Artificial Intelligence Lab. These funds are integral to the £14.6bn budgeted for R&D across Government – reflecting its ongoing commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.
· The BEIS settlement includes up to £17m in 2021-22 to support the exploitation of government owned intangible assets – it will launch a new unit and fund to scout for and develop government knowledge assets’ (IP, data, R&D, tech and other intangibles).
Communities in the UK have been hard-hit by the pandemic, already having endured an estimated 77,000 excess deaths since mid-March, and the emotional toll is palpable in broad-ranging reactions to the latest announcements and, today, tiered restrictions.
Ultimately, the recognition that investment in scientific endeavour must continue and, ideally, grow is to be welcomed, but the ongoing experiment in short-term funding for essential services cannot go on indefinitely.
The gruelling path to recovery sketched by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in its forecasts and the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday will be cold comfort to many (if not most) people.