NHS spending increases in Scotland have shrunk, report finds

Health spending per person fell from being 22% higher than in England to just 3% over two decades.

NHS spending increases in Scotland have shrunk, report finds iStock

Scottish health spending per person is currently 3% higher than in England, compared with 22% at the start of devolution, according to a leading think tank.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said increases in health spending in Scotland have been significantly smaller than in England, under both Labour and SNP-led administrations.

As a result, per capita health spending in Scotland went from being 22% higher than in England in 1999–2000, to 10% higher in 2009–10 and just 3% higher in 2019–20, according to official estimates.

Overall spending on public services is currently 27% higher in Scotland, with the IFS saying this largely reflects the impact of the Barnett formula.

The IFS released a briefing note on Thursday comparing spending on public services between Scotland and England.

On education, it found that spending per pupil was higher in Scotland than in England, but the report stated it was not clear if this was delivering better outcomes.

The IFS noted that spending on early-years provision and a range of other non-health services was much higher in Scotland than in England.

Ben Zaranko, one of the report’s authors, said: “Per-person spending in Scotland is higher than in England for virtually all public services, but devolution allows the Scottish Government to make different choices from the UK government over which services to prioritise.

“Over the past two decades, under both Labour and SNP-led administrations, the NHS has been prioritised to a lesser extent than in England.

“As a result, Scottish health spending per person is now just 3% higher than in England, versus 22% at the start of the devolution.

“Instead, Scottish Governments have placed relatively more priority on other services.

“Since the SNP has led the Government, this includes adult social care, early-years and higher education, and public order and safety.”

Responding to the report, Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said it showed how Scotland “significantly benefits” from being part of the UK.

He added: “While public spending in Scotland is significantly higher per head than elsewhere in the UK, the report finds that does not equate to better services or outcomes, as can be seen with education.

“Like nationalists the world over, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP seeks to blame others for their own shortcomings.

“Yet the report also debunks another of their grievance myths. We see that UK Government spending on the NHS has increased at a much faster rate in England than it has in Scotland under Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond.

“The data starkly illustrates that the NHS in Scotland is less of a priority to the SNP, despite their noisy rhetoric.”

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, said: “The news that increases to NHS funding in Scotland have failed to keep pace with even Tory England is cause for serious concern.

“The last year has made it clearer than ever just how valuable our NHS is, and it is unacceptable that these vital services are being short-changed despite record levels of public spending available in Scotland.

“Nicola Sturgeon failed to pass on the full Barnett consequentials to the NHS when she was Health Minister so we now face the twin challenges of recovering from the very immediate crisis created by Covid-19, while restoring our NHS after a decade of mounting problems and underfunding.”

Emma Harper, the SNP’s candidate for Galloway and West Dumfries, said: “As this report shows, Scotland has consistently maintained higher per head health spending than England, and the SNP Government has invested record levels of funding in real terms into NHS Scotland.

“On top of this we are offering NHS staff in Scotland a 4% pay rise – more than the measly 1% in England – and we have pledged to bring in a National Care Service if re-elected.

“The report also highlights that we’ve increased social care spending faster and taken forward integration. The SNP will keep making health and social care a priority.

“The convergence in funding is an example of the Barnett squeeze – if Scotland keeps pace with percentage increases then it costs us more than we get in Barnett consequentials.

“That is why Scotland must have the full fiscal powers of independence.”

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