NHS spending: the lowest financial settlement ever?

Published: 10th Mar 2017

In brief


The NHS has had its lowest financial settlement than any time going back to 1948.


The decade from 2010 to 2020 will see the smallest annual increases in UK healthcare spending than any previous period, according to experts at The King’s Fund and Health Foundation.

“For there to be no money for the NHS is extraordinary. We have been through six years where never before since the NHS was founded in 1948 has it ever had such a low settlement.”

Polly Toynbee, 9 March 2017

This is in the right ballpark, although there are a lot of ways of calculating and comparing changes in NHS funding over time.

It’s difficult to get a single, primary source for health spending over such a long period, so we’ve brought together some of the calculations that experts have come up with.

Experts at the Health Foundation charity say that there’s been an “unprecedented slowdown in funding for the NHS—now halfway through the most austere decade of funding growth since records began in 1948”.

This refers to healthcare spending for the whole of the UK. It grew by an average of 3.7% a year between 1949/50 and 2013/14 on Health Foundation calculations, taking inflation into account. By contrast, spending is set to have risen by around 1% a year in the decade up to 2020.

That’s slower than any previous decade: the annual growth rate was around 2% in the 1980s, according to the charity.

Ms Toynbee referred us to similar figures in a blog by the then chief economist of health think tank The King's Fund. He wrote that “the decade since the 2010 Spending Review will be the toughest financially since the inception of the NHS”.

If you just look at the NHS in England, the average funding increase over the five years to 2014/15 was smaller than any time since the 1970s, according to the House of Commons Library. There aren’t fully comparable figures for England going back to 1948.

Slower real-terms increases in funding than in the past are still increases. The NHS has more money than ever before. But experts, however they slice and dice the numbers, consistently warn that it’s not enough to keep up with demand for healthcare.

Correction 17 March 2017

We updated the article with feedback from Ms Toynbee on the source of her claim.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.


NHS pay: what’s the deal?

We aim for our factchecks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.