Andy Burnham revealed that he'd had conversations with the Chancellor about future health spending and that all could be revealed in the Pre-Budget Report this autumn, perhaps even sooner.
Despite his apparent optimism, our work with the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that whoever is in charge after the next election – and therefore after the current, generous comprehensive spending review period expires in 2011 – will have a hard time finding resources to meet the growing demands on the health service. In fact, the NHS is already preparing for cuts. For example Dr Richard Vautrey from the BMA, a practising GP in Leeds, revealed that his local PCT was already making plans to reduce spending in certain areas in anticipation of tighter financial times ahead.
In all the talk around future NHS funding there is unhelpful confusion over vocabulary. Last night, Andy Burnham talked about taking '£15-20 billion of savings' out of the system. But what does that mean? Is it productivity? Is it efficiency? Is it cost-efficiency? Or is it reprioritisation?
Potential 'savings' that politicians on all sides often cite, as Andy Burnham did again here, are the merging of back office functions. But while there are doubtless some aspects of NHS administration that could be done at a lower cost, it's simply disingenuous to imply that streamlining NHS management will be sufficient to bridge the gap between future health care funding and future health care demand – frontline services will be affected too.
When Andy Burnham took on the role of Health Secretary the glass of NHS finances was overflowing. He may, wisely, not be as ebullient as he was when he took on the job, but it's interesting to note that despite the best efforts of the doom-mongers the guy at the top still has a positive attitude.