We test the temperature of the nation this week


Deadly strain of bird flu breaks out on Suffolk farm

British terror detention limit is the longest of any western state

UK state pension is rated worst in Europe for the second year running


Talks over Kosovo's independence from Serbia are in stalemate

UK puts more rubbish into landfills than any other EU country

ADHD drugs are "not effective in long term," says research

cloud and sun

The stalled BAE-Saudi investigation faces a new High Court challenge

Ulster Freedom Fighters finally stand down

Export ban keeps Turner masterpiece in the country - for now


The government pledges an extra £70m to support rough sleepers

Architect plans to turn Croydon into a "new Barcelona"

French and German ministers record a song in praise of immigration

Summary: Dismal, as UK brings up the rear on pensions, detentions and rubbish

Forecast: Gusty, hopefully, as plans are unveiled for wind turbines at Westminster

sad face

Jastinder Khera

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New best friends?

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.