Over 2015, the number of national newspaper headlines featuring “NHS” alongside the words bust, deficit, meltdown or financial crisis came to a grand total of 80. Call this the NHS panic index – a measure of public anxiety over the viability of our health service. Using a database of all national newspapers, our librarians added up the number of such headlines for each year. The index shows that panic over the sustainability of our healthcare isn’t just on the rise – it has begun to soar.
During the whole of 2009, just two pieces appeared warning of financial crisis in the NHS. By 2012 that had nudged up a bit, to 12. Then came liftoff: the bust headlines more than doubled to 30 in 2013, before nearly tripling to 82 in 2014. Newspapers such as this one now regularly carry warnings that our entire system of healthcare could go bankrupt – unless, that is, radical change are made. For David Prior, the then chair of the health watchdog the Care Quality Commission – and now health minister, that means giving more of the system to private companies.
The figures suggest otherwise. True, the NHS is seeing a rise in its funding. Between 2010 and 2014, health spending went up 0.8% each year, adjusting for inflation. A plus sign in front, granted, but a teeny-tiny one – since its creation in 1948, the health service has never had it so bad. Over this decade as a whole, that allocation will amount to 1.2% a year, which is way down on the average 3.7% that health spending grew each year between 1949 and 1979. And, coming after the 6.7% extra that Gordon Brown was shovelling in annually by the time of the banking crash, it feels like a recession.
This NHS crisis is not economic. It’s political