Weekly political news round up – 21st July 2017

Overview

This week, Labour has announced it will focus on child health over the coming year against the backdrop of staff shortages in the paediatric workforce. The Department of Health has released its annual accounts, demonstrating marginal improvements to its financial performance from the previous year; and the schools budget in England has been increased by £1.3 billion over two years. The Government has also confirmed how it will allocate £325 million of capital funding for STPs that was first announced in the Spring Budget.

Labour announces focus on child health

The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has made a speech to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health this week, outlining Labour’s intention to focus on child health over the coming year. Ashworth used the speech to highlight the decline in the number of school nurses and health visitors over the last two years, equating to a 10% reduction in the number of school nurses, an 11% reduction to health visitors and 12% to district nurses, and the impact this has had on child health. He also discussed figures from the RCPCH demonstrating that one in five paediatric trainee positions in the NHS is currently vacant, despite trainees being enthusiastic about entering the specialty.

Ashworth also said that the Labour shadow health team will convene a series of workshops over the next year to “draw together the evidence and expertise in the field of child health.” Commenting on the falling numbers of school nurses and health visitors, the professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the RCN, Fiona Smith, highlighted that these professionals “are often the first point of contact for families and children experiencing mental and physical health issues, and their role is key in promoting healthy lifestyles.”

Department of Health annual accounts released

The Department of Health has published its annual report and accounts for 2016/17, reporting a 0.5% underspend to its £117.6 billion revenue budget, equating to £563 million. The underspend would not have been possible without the transfer of £1.2 billion of capital funding to the revenue budget, which had previously been agreed and would prevent investment in NHS infrastructure and estates. However, as the Department overspent by £200 million last year, the Government stated that it showed “good progress” in “challenging circumstances”.

The National Audit Office criticised the transfer of funds from the capital budget, stating that this will “have implications for the resilience of the service” if it prevents the NHS from investing in infrastructure. Similar transfers are currently scheduled to take place until 2020. The accounts also revealed that spending on healthcare provided by non-NHS bodies increased by 4.8% from the previous year, or £630 million, compared with a 2.3% increase (worth £175 million) to the amount spent on GP contracts.

Schools budget increased by £1.3 billion over two years

The Government has announced it will redistribute £1.3 billion of schools funding over the next two years to give all schools at least a 0.5% increase to their budgets in cash terms. When coupled with an additional £1 billion pledged by the Conservatives in their election manifesto and existing planned increase, the overall core schools budget is expected to rise by £2.6 billion between 2017/18 and 2019/20. However, the allocation has been criticised as it has been funded by reductions to other areas of the education budget – including the free schools budget and ‘healthy pupils’ projects – meaning there is no new funding from the Treasury.

The announcement has encountered a mixed reaction: while the leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union Geoff Barton said the allocation signified a “step in the right direction”, the consequences for other areas of the education budget were yet to be seen. Campaigners also highlighted the need for continued funding increases to compensate for rising pupil numbers and other increased costs, such as pensions and staffing.

Government allocates £325 million in capital funding to STPs

The Government has outlined how it will allocate £325 million of capital funding for Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) that was first announced in the Spring Budget. The funds will be allocated to 15 STPs which are deemed “the strongest and most advanced schemes in the STP categories based on an assessment of leadership and service performance”, with the criteria being used to determine this published on Friday.

The money was allocated to enable STPs to implement significant innovations, especially if they move care away from acute settings into the community. Four STPs will receive funding for primary care or integrated care hubs, while other STPs will receive allocations predominantly intended for emergency care, such as Dorset which will gain at least £100 million for emergency and planned care services. The announcement reiterated that further capital funding can be expected in the Autumn Statement “and beyond”, but the Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee Dr Richard Vautrey added that the areas need recurrent funding rather than one-off allocations for the innovations to be financially sustainable.