Another day, another political row about the government’s free social care at home for the elderly plan. Today, it’s how the plan is being funded.
While the government has been criticised for thus far being oblique about where the money will come from to fund the plan – they estimate it will cost £670 million per year, but others think it will be much higher – now they are starting to say where money will come from, they are garnering more criticism.
Health minister Andy Burnham, as reported in today’s Times on the eve of the publication of the Social Care Bill, says that “£60 million would be diverted from the health service’s research and development budget and £50 million from public health promotions.”
Inevitably, scientists have warned against cutting research budgets. The current research budget is more than £1 billion per year, so that cut is hardly a drop in the ocean.
Research is key for the future of healthcare and should be considered an investment – having drugs that cure is cheaper than the cost of lengthy treatment – and cuts should be avoided if possible.
However, the money will have to come from somewhere – if the Bill actually gets passed before the election, which is not guaranteed – and tough decisions will have to be made about which budgets get cut. It’s what we have government for; they make the hard decisions so we don’t have to.
It could be that funds are found from elsewhere. For example, a productivity drive in the NHS is expected to make up to £20 billion in efficiency savings in the next 4 years, which would more than pay for the Bill.
But wherever cuts come from to fund the free personal care plan, someone is going to be left unhappy. Well, almost; nobody has criticised the plan to save £60 million by cutting down on management consultants. Strange, that.