Jeremy Hunt Spring Budget 2023 image
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt

Yesterday (15 March 2023), Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, unveiled the Spring Budget 2023, which sets out the UK Government’s plans for tax and spending policy in the UK.

Some of the headline announcements for the assistive technology sector include a new whitepaper on disability benefits reform and £10 million funding to help patients access “cutting-edge” medical products.

Below, AT Today has covered the key points from the Spring Budget 2023 that assistive technology professionals should be aware of, as well as reactions from leaders in the sector.

Importantly, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) whitepaper on disability benefits reform has been published. Entitled ‘Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper’, its goal is to ensure disability benefits better meet the needs of disabled people, including those who use benefits to purchase essential assistive technologies.

The whitepaper includes removing the Work Capability Assessment, meaning the majority of claimants will now have to do one health assessment – Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – rather than two. Reforms will also support claimants to try work without fear of losing their financial support, according to the government.

Additionally, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will receive £10 million extra funding over two years to accelerate patient access to treatments. This will allow, from 2024, the MHRA to introduce new, swift approvals systems, speeding up access to treatments already approved by international partners and ground-breaking technologies.

A £406 million plan is set to tackle the leading health causes keeping people out of work, with investment targeted at services for musculoskeletal conditions, mental health, and cardiovascular disease.

There are no new tax rises within the budget.

However, the Spring Budget 2923 does not mention any new funding for health and social care or initiatives to support the health and social care workforce, which has been met with criticism from leading health and social care organisations.

Karin Orman, Director of Practice and Innovation at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), commented: “The Chancellor has announced a range of measures to try and boost the economy and address the big issues facing the country, under a banner of ‘Enterprise, Education, Employment, Everywhere’.

“The challenges facing the health and social care workforce, including occupational therapists, were essentially dismissed as a key priority for spending, disregarding the issues faced by the sector, staff and service users. The Chancellor only referenced the long-awaited and much needed NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. While we look forward to seeing the plan when published it’s disappointing the Chancellor didn’t take the opportunity to provide a launch date or an indication on what to expect.

“There were some positive actions which will support our members, such as the expansion of free childcare. We also welcome the announcement of two new consultations into the availability of occupational health and look forward to seeing the detail in the upcoming white paper on health and disability. But without addressing the key barriers facing workers across the NHS and Social Care, waiting lists and vacancies will continue to grow.

“We continue to call on government to address the key barriers, both individually and with partners including the Community Rehabilitation Alliance, #SENDInTheSpecialists, #PrescribingNow, but little or no progress has been made.

“Occupational therapists are on their knees with huge increases in demand on their support and long-term issues with recruitment and retention that are not going away without decisive action and investment.

“We call on the government to bring forward the workforce plan immediately and to engage with us and our alliance partners on the key challenges facing the health and social care system.”

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) Policy Director Rob Yeldham added: “Whilst extra funding to keep people with MSK conditions stay in work is welcome there was nothing extra for community rehabilitation. Without action to train and retain more physio and physio support workers it is difficult to see how new initiatives can be taken forward.

“The budget simply did not address the biggest issue physiotherapy is facing, which is a lack of staff. We are lagging far behind other countries when it comes to the ratio of physiotherapists to patients.

“Key to retaining NHS physios and support workers is fair pay, and there was nothing in the budget to address this and no recognition of the years of relative pay decline.

“We now await the Government’s workforce strategy and hope it throws us a lifeline by clearly setting out how it will recruit and retain the big increase in physio numbers we need in the NHS to ensure patients get the quality of care they need to lead independent, active lives.”

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, agreed: “Every NHS leader in the country was also hoping for the publication of the long-awaited workforce plan. The government should be credited for committing to publish the plan, but with 124,000 vacancies this is now long overdue. We need to see that plan shortly and it needs to be fully funded. Without this, the NHS will be in permanent crisis management mode, and we need to offer NHS staff hope that this longstanding issue will be addressed.”

Max Parmentier, Co-Founder and CEO of home healthcare technology company birdie, said: “Despite hope for meaningful reform, the spring budget has completely ignored the NHS and adult social care crisis, making it clear impactful change is unlikely to happen anytime soon. In short, the cavalry isn’t coming.

“So, the health and social care sectors must now ignite true reform together. We must start by accelerating the discharge process through increased communication between the health and social care sectors to leverage local care capacity. Secondly, we must take prevention seriously, with the NHS spearheading prevention initiatives and research at the Transformation Directorate level. And thirdly, we need to make the standardisation of data across health and social care a priority to ensure effective communication between the two sectors.

“Millions of older adults are waiting for care across England. Thousands have already died without getting the care they needed. Waiting for meaningful change from the government will only lead to more tragedies. It’s on us to start bridging the gap between health and social care, and to build a system that works for all.”

The Spring Budget 2023 follows on from the Autumn Statement 2022, which revealed that in 2024-25, access to funding for the NHS and social care is being increased by up to £8 billion. It controversially detailed that the long-awaited adult social care reform would be delayed from October 2023 to October 2025.

The Autumn Statement 2022 was met with mixed reactions from leading health and social care organisations.

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