Sustained increases in health spending welcome, but focus must now switch to tackling glaring health inequalities, says The King's Fund

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Speaking in response to the 2004 Comprehensive Spending Review, The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'We welcome the Chancellor's announcement that the NHS will continue to receive the vital extra funding it needs to improve patient care. The 7.1 per cent annual real terms increase in health spending comes at a time when there is huge pressure on the public services to deliver. The NHS now has the sustained and guaranteed funding it needs to improve health and healthcare in the UK up to 2007/08 and will bring us in line with other European countries such as France and Germany. But, crucially, we must ensure this extra funding gets through to the front line and makes a real difference on the ground.

'This unprecedented level of funding has helped the NHS drive down waiting times, improve accident and emergency and recruit more and more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. Things are slowing getting better. But the NHS has to keep its eye on the ball if these improvements are to be sustained and there is still much to be done. Glaring inequalities in healthcare and health still exist that need to be urgently tackled. And there is no sign yet that we are making the same progress in improving overall levels of mental health as we are in combating cancer and coronary heart disease.

'We would now like to see the government focus its attentions on making health services more responsive to people on lower incomes. One of the ironies of the NHS is that it's a universal system free to all at the point of use regardless of ability to pay. But even now it's clear that not everyone in the country is receiving the same quality of healthcare. These wide variations need to be tackled as a priority.'

Niall Dickson added: 'The problem the government still has is how to prove the extra money being pumped into the NHS is making a difference to patients' health. We need to be smarter in how we measure NHS performance. The current method - patients treated and operations carried out - fails to take quality of care into account and says nothing about overall standards of health.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585.

2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.