8 September 2011

We have been here before, but as many times as it takes …

On Tuesday Cornwall unitary council decided, unanimously Dick Cole’s MK blog tells us, to ask the secretary of state for health in England (health is a devolved matter for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) to “uplift Cornwall’s health funding by £20.6 million in this financial year”.

I wrote about this issue in some detail in the posts Progress on Cornwall health funding and Funding health in Cornwall, which give the funding figures, the shortfall, and the make up of the formula for distribution.

Briefly, the distribution of the relevant health funding is cursed by historical anomalies. Some health authorities get more than they need according to the formula, others, including but not only Cornwall, get less. In the jargon, measuring the distance from target, some are above target, others below. As the earlier posts show this 2011/12 financial year Cornwall’s shortfall is much less than in 2010/11, and there are authorities farther below target in percentage terms than Cornwall. As ever, the posts lead back to the source of the figures.

Successive governments are reducing the anomalies and trying to get everyone on target. It would not be responsible to put it right overnight: that would take millions from the overtarget authorities and destabilise their health services. It has to be done in a carefully managed way that maintains stability and the health services. In a time of austerity there is little chance of upping some while maintaining the overtargets of others. In fact Cornwall’s shortfall has been dramatically reduced since 2010/11.

Of course a reasonable case can be made that the pace of change to on-target could responsibly be faster. That was not what Cornwall Council chose to do. Nor did it challenge the make up of the distribution formula. It did not reckon the health authorities worse off in percentage distance from target than Cornwall and the fact that Cornwall’s £20 million is not the whole under target funding in England. Instead it voted for a simplistic and unrealistic motion – me, now – that I believe has no chance of success.