As the dust settles on the first weeks of the new parliament and ahead of the party conference season, we assess the state of health and social care and set out the big issues facing the government.
Rising demand for health care means that the NHS is treating more patients than ever before. Between 2003/4 and 2015/16, the number of admissions to hospital increased by 3.6 per cent a year. At the same time, the health service is enduring a prolonged slowdown in funding. Under current spending plans, the NHS budget will increase by an average of 1.1 per cent a year between 2009/10 and 2020/21, compared to a long-term average increase of nearly 4 per cent a year since the NHS was established.
The mismatch between demand and funding means that NHS services are struggling to maintain standards of care. All areas of care are affected, with acute hospitals, general practice, mental health and community services all under strain. It is important to keep this in perspective – public satisfaction with services remains high and the NHS is still the best-performing health system among 11 countries analysed by the Commonwealth Fund. However, there is no doubt that the service is facing unprecedented financial and operational challenges.
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