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Spring Statement – Better outcomes for patients

On 13th March 2019 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, set out his Spring Statement. Unsurprisingly, predictions of future growth were heavily caveated in the light of uncertainties surrounding the final shape of a Brexit deal. So, relatively early within the speech, the Chancellor commented that “if the UK’s withdrawal is less than orderly, then the OBR’s (Office for Budgetary Responsibility) outlook for the economy and public finances is likely to become more pessimistic.”


Nevertheless, with borrowing in 2019 likely to be just 1.1% of GDP and debt levels falling, the Chancellor commented that the country currently remains on track to meet fiscal targets earlier than originally forecast. Fiscal highlights include nine years of growth with the OBR forecasting further growth in the next five years and the best employment figures since 1975. These include the comment that 96% of new jobs created in the UK in 2018 were full time and the OBR forecasting a further 600,000 new jobs in the economy by 2023.


With the positive economic forecasts in mind the Chancellor highlighted the Prime Minister’s earlier announcement of £34b additional funding per year for the NHS by the end of the current spending review period. Philip Hammond commented that this additional spending “putting the NHS first in line – as the British public would expect” is intended to deliver:

  • improved cancer and mental health care
  • a transformation of GP services
  • more doctors, more nurses and better outcomes for patients


Looking forward, the Chancellor took the Spring Statement opportunity to announce a further spending review which, subject to Brexit outcomes, is to be launched before Parliament’s summer recess and which will report in time for the autumn budget. This is intended to “set departmental budgets beyond the NHS” in areas such as social care, local government, schools, police, defence and the environment. This further spending review will have a renewed focus on delivering high quality outcomes, thereby maximising value for taxpayers’ money.


Other areas in which health services may indirectly benefit from government initiatives include action in respect of the digital infrastructure. The Chancellor commented that the government has a strategy for delivering a nationwide full fibre network by 2033; something which will in particular benefit outlying health practices which are present are unable to optimise their processes due to the existence of a slow broadband connection. Areas such as online appointment booking or the digital transfer of patient records depend on fast reliable broadband if they are to deliver efficiency savings.


A review of competition in the digital marketplace was published alongside the Spring statement. Actions arising out of this review, including a study by the Competition and Markets Authority into the digital advertising market, are designed to ensure that the UK’s regulatory model for the digital age will “ensure that competition policy works in consumers interests” and that “the public are protected from online harms.” This too may have implications for health services, particularly if further action is required to strengthen protections around patient confidentiality, including the maintenance and transfer of patient records.

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