Yesterday's Budget announcement held few surprises for the NHS. As expected. Nowadays, the important public finance figures are published in the autumn, and it would have been disappointing indeed if chancellor Alistair Darling had revisited the NHS assumptions in last October's spending review.
He didn't. NHS spending in England is still set to grow from£90bn to£110bn per year by 2010-11, despite a worsening overall economic environment and mutterings of potential recession. Mr Darling has been forced to trim his earlier growth forecasts for the next two years, though not as drastically as some City analysts had predicted. The longer-term public sector growth projection, of 1.9 per cent real terms growth per year from 2011, also still stands. "Discipline" in public sector pay remains a theme.
The devil is often in the detail, and NHS finance directors will be glad a potentially disruptive change in the accounting treatment of PFI-funded assets has been deferred for a year. The decision to delay implementing international financial reporting standards, which will bring many PFI projects on to trust balance sheets and into the capital charging regime, smacks of expediency; but sometimes a pragmatic approach to accounting policies is no bad thing.
The Budget announcement also included a familiar theme: encouraging the workshy back into employment. Will the threat of assessments for those on long-term incapacity benefit be matched by support for early health interventions to help prevent ailments such as lower back pain from becoming chronic? Now that would be "joined up" thinking.
So, with calm and predictability returning to health funding, and social care awaiting the anticipated green paper, perhaps yesterday's most significant announcements are to be found in those time-honoured budget-day headlines about booze and fags. We say we are moving from a hospital-focused system for treating illness to a community-based health maintenance service, and the chancellor's sizeable increases in alcohol duty may do much to reduce alcohol-related illness and death. The nation's health may well be the beneficiary of recent political embarrassment surrounding alcohol-fuelled public mischief.