Responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement of plans to ‘build back better’ in the wake of coronavirus, Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and REAL Centre (Research and Economic Analysis for the Long term) at the Health Foundation, said:

'The Prime Minister has today promised to ‘build the UK back to health’ with an ambitious package of infrastructure funding, including money for hospital buildings. Money to rebuild the NHS is necessary and welcome, but the funding announced today will only go a short way to addressing years of underinvestment which has led to a maintenance backlog of over £6.5bn in NHS Trusts. The UK has historically spent far less than other countries on capital in the health system, and even with recent increases it will still be behind the average of comparable countries.

'In the last 7 years the government has transferred over £5bn in real terms from the NHS capital budget to fund the day-to-day running of the health service. The NHS needs a capital strategy and a clear plan for long-term investment. But while buildings and equipment are important, investment in capital must be accompanied by investment in the workforce to provide the extra capacity the NHS clearly needs.

'Improvements in life expectancy had stalled before COVID-19 and declined over the last decade in the more deprived areas of the country outside London. Rebuilding the nation’s health and reducing inequalities requires far more than just infrastructure investment.

‘Boris Johnson has today said that his government will ‘put its arms around people at a time of crisis’. But to level up the country and stop people from falling through the cracks in society, the government will need to go further than pledging new buildings by addressing the factors that have the strongest influence on people’s health and wellbeing: the conditions in which people live. ‘Building back better’ and levelling up will only work if improving health and tackling health inequalities is part of a central cross-government strategy. This needs to include strengthening the social security system, investing in children’s services, and improving the quality of housing, education and work for everyone.'

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