This week the Prime Minister announced that the National Health Service will receive an extra £20 billion a year by 2023. It means an average annual increase of 3.4%, but more in the first couple of years.
It comes hard on the heels of a package of pay rises which will see substantial increases for all NHS staff.
This is all extremely welcome news. Of course some people are already saying it's not enough, or it should have happened sooner. It's always very easy and popular to call for more spending on our public services. But the reality is rather more complicated.
There’s been a lot of talk about where the extra money is coming from. Is this the so-called ‘Brexit dividend’? Just for the record, the side of that famous bus claimed Brexit would mean £350 million a week more for the NHS; what Theresa May has announced is actually almost double that.
So it's clear that taxes and borrowing will have to rise. Remember the government doesn’t have any money of its own, it can only borrow money (which it has to pay back later), or take money from us in the form of taxes. Raising taxes may seem a simple solution, and some polls suggest it would be popular. But beware the law of unintended consequences. Raising taxes can harm the economy, and could actually mean less money being raised in the long term. So every decision on increased spending has to be very carefully considered.
Yes, the government has had to take difficult decisions to keep the economy strong and get the country's finances under control. Despite that, we've actually been increasing spending on the NHS each year, contrary to reports. But the funding hasn’t kept pace with rising costs and certainly hasn’t been enough to cover the growing demands on our health service.
This announcement shows we’re turning the corner at last. We now need to have a proper discussion about where the money should be spent to benefit patients the most. Of course, I’ll continue lobbying hard to ensure North Devon gets its fair share.