We’re all trying to make savings during these uncertain economic times. And the Government is no different.
So there was genuine nervousness today as the Chancellor, George Osborne, stood up to lay out Government’s spending plans for the next five years – especially as Government departments had been asked to find substantial savings.
With things like the public health budget and the science budget as potential sources of these savings, that pointed to big changes ahead for local authorities, charities, researchers – and ultimately for patients and the public.
But on the other hand, there were positive signs. The Department of Health announced in September its plans to invest in early diagnosis, something we asked for in our Test Cancer Sooner campaign. This was a clear message from Government that it supported a key part of the recent Cancer Strategy for England.
And yesterday, George Osborne also announced that NHS England’s budget will increase by nearly £4 billion next year. So we’re hopeful this will provide enough money for the Government and the NHS to stick to these commitments on early diagnosis.
So now on to today’s Spending Review announcement. Was it cause for cheer, or for doom and gloom? In reality, it was a bit of both.
1. Preventing cancer
First, the bad news. The amount of money available for Local Authorities to spend on public health had already been stretched ahead of the Spending Review. In June, £200 million was taken out of budgets – this will seriously affect Local Authorities’ ability to offer public health services across England, including Stop Smoking Services, which play an important role in ensuring smoking rates continue their downward trend.
The work of local authorities is vital. They are on the frontline, helping people stop smoking as well as tackling alcohol and obesity, which are all leading causes of cancer. We recognise that the Government is committed to savings. But tobacco remains the biggest cause of preventable death in the UK. And the only way to tackle this is to keep investing in the services we know help people quit.
So we’re really concerned that additional cuts to the Department for Health announced today will further affect these local services.
Cutting local public health budgets in this way is short-sighted if the Government is serious about tackling cancer.
We’ll continue to tell the Chancellor this. And we hope our voice is heard.
2. Science and Research
One of the departments asked to find substantial savings was Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – and part of its remit is to set the Government’s overall science budget.
So we’ve been worried for some time that investment in UK science could take a substantial hit. This is vital – we receive no government funding for our research, but we do depend on this investment to help support our ground-breaking research, and ensure it ultimately benefits patients. We’ve blogged about the importance of investment in science before.
So, we’re really pleased that today the Chancellor has protected the science budget in real terms. Put simply, this means an increase in the budget to £4.7bn. That’s £500 million more being spent on science over the next 10 years. On top of this the Government also reaffirmed its promise to invest £6.9 billion in science infrastructure between 2015 and 2021.
We’re still looking into the detail of the budget for the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), another vital element of the research ecosystem in the UK.
This continued Government investment in science is crucial – without it, we won’t be able to realise our ambition of three in four people surviving cancer in the next 20 years.
3. Cancer services in the NHS
As we said above, the Department of Health’s September announcement of up to £300 million to tackle workforce and equipment issues was a welcome boost, given the UK’s overstretched cancer diagnostic services. This had been a key call in our Test Cancer Sooner campaign, and it was an important recommendation in the Cancer Strategy.
So the extra £6 billion for NHS England announced today is good news, and means that the NHS will have the money it needs to provide 2 million more diagnostic tests by 2021. It will also be investing up to £300m a year by 2020 in new diagnostic equipment and additional staff.
This shows the Government is committed to taking forward the Early Diagnosis recommendations laid out in the Cancer Strategy.
We were hoping to hear more on other areas too, for example increased investment in Radiotherapy. But that wasn’t the case. So we’ll continue to push the Government to implement this important recommendation, and many others in the Cancer Strategy, as soon as possible.
While overall this signals a commitment from Government to ensure the whole cancer strategy is taken forward, we urgently need more detail from them and the NHS in coming months.
The Spending review has been a mixed picture for cancer, with welcome news for the Cancer Strategy and frustration over public health.
There are lots of positives to take from the Spending Review, and we’re really pleased with the money that has been earmarked for diagnosing cancer earlier, which will mean real benefits for patients. It’s also great that the Government will continue to invest in science, which offers vital support for the research we fund.
But, the impact on public health is a real concern.
So as the dust settles on one of the most eagerly awaited Treasury announcements in many years, we will continue to hold the government to account on the decisions made today, and ensure that the money committed is available without delay so patients can see the benefits as soon as possible.
Roxy Squire is a public affairs officer at Cancer Research UK