Allocating NHS resources by age ‘would benefit affluent areas’

Government proposing greater focus on age

Government plans to allocate NHS resources by age would disproportionately benefit affluent areas of the country and take funding away from those most in need, according to a senior researcher writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

In a speech last month, health secretary Andrew Lansley said that when new Clinical Commissioning Groups are up and running, they should predominately allocate funds according to the age of the region’s population.

Currently, funds are allocated to Primary Care Trusts by a formula that takes account of age, deprivation, health need and the local cost of providing care, but Lansley told the NHS Clinical Commissioners conference in April that age is the biggest determinant of health need.

But in a letter to this week’s BMJ, Clare Bambra, Professor of Public Health Policy and acting director of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University, warns that to sever the link between deprivation and health need would be to take away care from those who need it most.

She said an approach focusing solely on age would “lead to a considerable shift of healthcare funding away from the neediest, poorer areas of the north and the inner cities towards the least needy, most affluent, and most elderly areas of the south”.

Professor Bambra examined the impact of age only allocation by recalculating the 2011-2 NHS resource allocation by English strategic health authorities and found that, if an age only allocation approach had been taken, there would have been a 14.9% and 12.0% loss of resource in the poorer north east and north west regions respectively (£265 and £209 per head).

The regional winners would have been the more affluent south east coast and south central areas, with increases of 12.6% and 15.8% (£188 and £220 per head).

She said: “These data suggest that age only NHS resource allocation, which ignores the important link between deprivation and health, would disproportionately benefit areas of England that are the most healthy, most affluent, and most likely to vote Conservative.”

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