The funding of the NHS was top of the political agenda during July, with the latest Government announcement of a £21 billion cash injection stunning health groups.
Health spending is to increase by a total of £21 billion over three years, a sum which has exceeded all expectations. It will rise by 5.7% next year in real, inflation adjusted, terms and by 4.5% in 2000.
Chancellor Gordon Brown said the Government was trebling the investment in the NHS made by previous administration. He added: “Under this government the health service will never be left to the hazards of private or charitable provision.”
The latest cash pledge came after considerable media speculation on exact figures after Prime Minister Tony Blair had said the service would get “the resources it needs” earlier in the month.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson said new GP premises, hospital refurbishment, improved staff training and leading edge technology would be made possible by the additional funds.
The Chancellor’s announcement was made after the Health Secretary had revealed that the NHS is to get an extra 3000 beds as part of the Government’s drive to cut hospital waiting lists.
Dobson unveiled details of hundreds of schemes nation-wide that he believes will help patients to get treated more quickly and free up beds.
The proposals set out in the report reveal how the extra £417 million allocated for cutting waiting lists will be spent. Money will go to the opening of new wards and beds throughout the NHS, the appointment of new doctors, nurses and the introduction of weekend and evening surgery.
Despite waiting lists rising to a record high of 1.29 million, Dobson claims that the report shows how the government has met an initial promise on waiting list reduction.
Dobson said: “The NHS in England has delivered on the Government’s promise – made in November – that by the end of March 1998, nobody in England would be waiting more than 18 months for treatment.”
Dobson highlighted the fact that almost 2000 extra beds will be opened and that a further 1100 beds earmarked for closure would be staying open.
The initiative on waiting lists was accompanied earlier in the month by the announcement of a £14 million cash injection to extend NHS Direct.
Dobson announced plans to extend NHS Direct following the success of three pilot schemes in Preston, Milton Keynes and Northumberland.
From next April, the nurse-led 24-hour helpline will cover more than 10 million people including Greater Manchester, Birmingham and Cornwall.
Most of the new services will be run by the ambulance service but some will also involve GP cooperatives.
The 50th anniversary of the NHS has also been used by Dobson to announce a drop in hospital waiting lists. He said early indicators show waiting lists stopped growing in May and have been coming down since June.
He was unable to give current figures for the lists.