Health Policy Insight
Healthcare management online analysis and intelligence
The home of UK health policy

Editorial Friday 9 October 2015: NHS in 'on course for widely predicted £2 billion overspend' shock

Publish Date/Time: 
10/09/2015 - 13:03

Whoever could have predicted it? Data just released by Monitor (in great detail) and the TDA (in scant detail) show the NHS provider sector is on the widely-predicted course to at least a £2 billion deficit for 2015-16.

In other exclusive news, bears shit in the woods.

In Q1 of 2015-16, NHS FTs were an aggregate total of £445 million overspent; non-FTs were £485 million overspent. On course for a £2 billion overspend, or maybe more? Jez we can!

The massive delay in publication, until, oh, just after the Conservative Party Conference will, as I noted yesterday, be a source of huge angst to Virgin toilet misuser Jeremy Hunt in his quest for "intelligent transparency".

No doubt an in-depth inquiry will relentlessly pursue the culprits to the long grass.

Unless Health Select Committee chair Dr Sarah Woolaston takes an interest: she has more than something about her.

What does a £2 billion overspend mean?
Once upon a time, a £2 billion overspend would have been something to fear and loathe. It's not really, now. As I noted yesterday, there will be some 'cargo cult' ritual slaughter once the full-year figures emerge.

So it goes: Una's time as permanent secretary was almost up anyway, and while Jeremy Hunt has been good on patient safety, it is quite clearly Simon Stevens' influence that drew the extra £8 billion in cash (which could have been £12billion, but there we go: mustn't grumble).

Mr Hunt has been a lucky politician, by and large. He was lucky in the generosity of Lord Leveson's interpretation of events relating to Fred Michel and the BSkyB bid from Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp.

Mr Hunt was lucky again at health, with the Francis Public Inquiry report offering him an agenda over patient safety (which to his credit, he took seriously); and in having inept Mascara Kid Andy Burnham as his shadow, whose shroud-waving of 'privatisation' didn't resonate with the public.

There were many better targets at which The Mascara Kid could have pointed his Maybellene.

So Mr Hunt - a medium-sized beast of the Conservative Party - goes from playing the Judas Goat to finding that he is one of the lambs being led to the political slaughterhouse where so many health secretaries' careers met their quietus.

That's the way the biscotti crumbles.

Monitor's boss Dr David Bennett, who is going in part due to his detestation of Jeremy Hunt, will find that much blame-ordure will be heaped at his door by an increasingly desperate DH and Mr Hunt's advisers.

This won't be wholly fair, by any means. But that's politics.

Treasury games
The overspend is best understood as part of Treasury games.

These are a virility contest for the small of penis (literal/metaphorical) and the hard of empathy. It's the attempt of sociopaths to turn the welfare state into a Dutch auction.

Nobody who's serious thinks for one second that the tariff accurately reflects either providers' costs or the increasing acuity of demand.

Our health system is one of the most cost-effective in the OECD nations, and offers universal coverage to a generally good standard.

Former Comrade-In-Chief of NHS England Sir David Nicholson's recent lecture pointed out the comparative spending of Sweden, France and Germany is significantly higher per capita.

As I stated yesterday, health's DEL will be breached. And the world will not end. Just a couple of careers. Rather mirroring what's happened to a fair few good NHS chief executives (and of course a few not-so-good ones).

Restoration-faced Chancellor George Osborne would like the DEL breach to be the equivalent of the Mexican stand-off that ends so many of Quentin Tarantino's films, where all the protagonists are pointing loaded guns at one another.

NHS system leaders can work together to deny Mr Osborne the pleasure, and should.