Autumn Statement leaves NHS pining for the fjords

Regular readers of our Healthcare Roundup will know that there is huge concern over financing for health and social care. The major think tanks, finance leads and noted commentators appear to agree – there is not enough money in the system to cope with increasing demand.

This week’s autumn statement on government spending plans turned a deaf ear to this clamour. Departmental spending would remain the same. The government says it is already investing £10bn in the NHS. It argues its case still, despite quite robust challenges to its use of that figure.

Recent debates over the amount invested in the NHS reminded me of the classic dead parrot sketch by Monty Python. This classic comedy moment sees a shop owner insist that a recently-puchased parrot – a Norwegian Blue no less – was very much alive, despite the customer showing that it was very much dead. No more. It was an ex-parrot.

No, the shop owner insisted. It was tired, It was resting, It was ‘pining for the fjords’.

It was bare-faced denial of the highest order, made into comedy by the brilliant writing and performances of the Monty Python team.

Is this government also in denial about the investment required to keep the health and social care system alive? The figures we read would make it seem so. Provider and commissioner deficits rising, targets consistently missed, and a looming crisis in social care all appear quite real.

In the Monty Python scene, the shop keeper rattles the parrot’s cage to show that is still alive, just as the government rattles its money box and repeats how it is investing £10bn in ‘the NHS’s own plan’, the Five Year Forward View.

Our health and social care services might not be quite as obviously dead as the parrot in the Python sketch. Advances are being made, efficiencies sought, new ways of thinking and doing things are emerging that will improve how we look after each other.

But health and social care services are definitely stunned. People, processes and technology need to work together to help build a sustainable health and social care system. Otherwise we face the prospect of a harsh Norwegian winter ahead.

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