Last night BBC News at Ten presenter Huw Edwards solemnly intoned at the top of the show:
Tonight at ten: the record funding crisis set to hit the NHS within a couple of years. NHS managers tell the BBC that the funding shortfall will mean fundamental changes for the service in England.
Then we had Nigel Edwards from the NHS Confederation going all Old Testament on us:
Having had seven years of plenty it now looks like seven years of famine from 2011 onwards.
Note how staged this image is – this is not news. Note the NHS Confederation was not named in this package save for this graphic caption.
The BBC’s package was long (3 mins 15 secs followed by a minute of BBC presenter interviews BBC reporter) and took the prime spot. It was not news. It was pre-prepared with specially designed graphics posed with models.
They used that hoary old journalistic cliche of the cardiac monitor flat-lining.
It seems they even got a nurse to write the word “cuts” up on a noticeboard. I would really rather she spent her time making tea for someone rather than helping the BBC to deliver this piece of polemic.
They posted lurid cuts numbers across the screen without any explanation of where they came from.
I think polemic is fair comment if you check out the images. TV is, above all, a visual medium and no amount of talking heads giving perspective can counterbalance the basic message – “NHS cuts on the way”. There was no attempt to explain that these are Gordon Brown’s cuts. No attempt to explain that after a trebling of NHS spending under Gordon Brown there probably is ample room for efficiency savings.
Even in a long pre-prepared package lasting over 3 minutes the News at Ten editors fail to make clear that the report they are highlighting comes from the NHS Confederation. If you don’t know who they are they are effectively the trade union for all of those health service managers we are not so sure about. To point out that they exclusively represent producer interests would be fair comment but one which the BBC seems unable to make.
In the BBC’s package they talk about a £8-10 billlion shortfall in the three years after 2011. This morning the take away number seems to be £15 billion, see the Telegraph for instance. It is hard to work out how the NHS Confederation did their sums. If you go to their website the only way you can get hold of their document is if your work e-mail address matches one of their member organisations. It seems they don’t mind the £15 billion hare running without the baggage of the maths behind it.
I called the NHS Confederation this morning and their James Pritchard sent me a copy of the document by e-mail. Thanks. It seems the numbers come out of some pretty broad brush assumptions.
With little or no cash increase, from 2011/12 the NHS will need to plan for real terms funding to fall by 2.5–3 per cent per annum. This is equivalent to a cut of between £8–10 billion over the next CSR and up to £15 billion over five years.
Obviously the media have picked up the larger number this morning. If they had any maths skills they could extend the 5 years to 10 years and come up with the figure £29 billion. Or 20 years and £50 billion. Recently NHS spending has been growing at about 8% per annum. Right now NHS spending is predicted to be £110 billion by 2011. In my view although cash limits will be a shock to the NHS and its managers there is no doubt that 3 to 5 years of “flatlining” would be a good discipline that would ensure that the public gets value for money from a service that has been allowed to run riot for seven fat years.