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Wednesday’s spending review was by no means a cheery affair, with the terms of the country’s bleak economic future spelt out plainly. There was little cause for celebration.
The NHS, while by no means a victor, received some supportive news, however. The DHSC’s capital budget is now set to increase to £9.4bn, an amount that approaches the average spent by other developed countries.
Spending review documents show around £325m will go towards diagnostic equipment, £165m on eradicating mental health dormitories, and £560m on “the modernisation of technology”.
Such increases have been the hopes of leaders and thinkers in healthcare for some time. A Health Foundation report in 2019 said capital spending must increase to around £10bn to both reach the OECD average and allow the NHS to plan for its future.
However, accounting for inflation, Wednesday’s announcement still misses the mark set out by the think tank by more than £1bn so (yet again) capital is still not quite where many think it should be.
And this is despite the government’s ongoing commitment to hospital building, upgrading dated equipment and digitising the health service.
The absence of long-term capital spending may owe as much to the pressures of covid as it does the lack of vision that a one-year spending review causes.
Given the grim economic picture for the nation and the pace at which recovery is predicted to take, however, we may well become accustomed to such medium-term planning for the foreseeable future.