Baroness Quin seeks assurances from the government that regional health spending will not create a north-south divide in provision.
There have recently been reports that the government intends to rethink the way it allocates NHS funds to the different regions of England and that in particular it may replace the criterion of deprivation as the main basis for how the budget is allocated in favour of a system which makes the age of residents in a region the principal determinant of spending. This has given rise to concern that resources may be redirected to better off areas of the country where people live longer and away from those areas where life expectancy, for various reasons, is shorter. Not surprisingly this concern is most keenly expressed in areas like mine, in the North-East of England, where not only is life expectancy on average shorter than in many other areas but where there still remain acute problems left by our former dependency on heavy industries, of employment-related illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
In the House of Lords today I shall be asking the government to make a clear statement of its policy on regional health spending and urging it not to abandon either the criterion of deprivation nor the commitment – as a priority – to tackle health inequalities.
I am also deeply worried that if the government does redirect spending to wealthier areas in health this will greatly add to the fears in the north of England that we are going to see a dramatic worsening of the north-south English divide. Other noises about government policy changes have already fuelled such fears – including ideas about regionalising public sector pay and regionalising benefits. At a time when jobs are being lost faster in the north than the south and when house repossessions are higher in the north than the south, the priority should be to narrow the north-south divide and to abandon any policy initiative which risks widening it.