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Beneath fine words

Health Service Budget Slashed

(February 1980)

From Militant, No. 488, 1 February 1980, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Faced with a growing movement of opposition to their cuts policies, the Tories have tried unsuccessfully, to put out minds at rest about the future of the health service.

They have denied that they are cutting back on NHS spending. True, they admit that last June’s VAT increase has cost the NHS £40 millions during 1979. They concede that inflation above the 8½% level at which they started off in power has cost the NHS a further £60 millions.

But they have promised that future spending levels will take account of these increases. Managements have used this argument, claiming the cuts are only of a temporary nature, and that spending levels will be restored next April.

The Tories also claim that they are maintaining the levels of health spending as planned by the last Labour government, that is of a modest growth in real terms.

Publication of the Public expenditure White Paper, and the statements of Patrick Jenkin, Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, shatter these arguments. They show that behind the fine words lie further cuts.

Governments accept that the NHS requires 1% to 2% growth per year in spending, merely to stand still. This is nothing to do with inflation. Costs are rising due to the changing population structure and to the introduction of new drugs and new medical techniques.

The 3% ‘growth’ announced for the year 1980/81 merely covers this expected increased requirement over the two year period since 1978/79.

Patrick Jenkin stated in Parliament, however, that 2½% of this 3% would be to make up the losses imposed by cash limits on this year’s NHS spending, leaving only ½% left for the inevitable 2% to 4% actual increased costs. It is clear that already we are faced with a continuation of this year’s drastic cuts.

Based on an expected 11½% inflation, rather than the 8½% originally allowed for by Labour, the current year’s NHS cuts have been estimated at £125 million, including £25 million towards the costs of wage increases. As yet we don’t know how wage awards will be funded next year. But already inflation is running over 17%, so the cut this year will be even greater than so far officially acknowledged.

As shown above, this will effectively be carried forward next year as a permanent cut.

Whichever way you look at it, it is going to be in the region of £200 millions (and probably more) out of a total figure of approximately £9,000 millions, this would be roughly the equivalent of say, closing 100 medium size hospitals.

It would involve upwards of 40,000 jobs, and affect maybe 200,000 or 400,000 in-patients per year for whom no beds will be available.

It is not possible to work out the exact implications of the Tories’ policies in terms of future cuts without the actual cash limits figure, yet to be allocated, and the assumptions on which it is based.

If the allocations underestimate the inflation rate, the situation will be even worse, with health authorities attempting to make huge panic ‘savings’. Yet already as the end of the current financial year approaches many Districts and Areas will be overspent and hoping for an easier time next year.

One final point should be borne in mind. What will be “restored” by the government? It is only spending levels which can be restored, and there is grave doubt about whether this will be done.

But there is no way in which health will be restored to those who have had to forego treatment because of the cutbacks. No Tory magic can restore life to those who died because of NHS cuts.

These effects of cutbacks are permanent. Waiting lists go up – and they stay up.

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Last updated: 10 July 2017