Exploring the consequences of NHS underfunding

The National Health Service (NHS) is the cornerstone of healthcare in the United Kingdom, providing free, universal healthcare to its citizens. Unfortunately, the NHS has been facing a triple whammy of financial challenges in recent years: rising costs, cuts in funding, and a lack of resources to properly deliver healthcare. In this blog post we will explore the implications of NHS underfunding.


Impact of Underfunding

The NHS has been hit hard by austerity measures implemented by the Conservative party in response to the 2008 financial crisis. As a result, funding for the NHS has been steadily declining in real terms since 2010, with the biggest cuts concentrated in the period between 2015 and 2018. This has led to doctors and nurses having to stretch their resources to the limit, with a resultant backlog of patients waiting for treatment. In 2015, for example, 3.7 million people were waiting more than four hours at hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments, which is a clear indication that the system is seriously overstretched. Today, this number has more than doubled causing unimaginable consequences on both patients and healthcare staff.

There exist several issues surrounding staffing and funding in the NHS that are causing decreased efficiency and strained resources. The UK is facing a growing shortage of medical staff, with a lack of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals resulting in long waiting times and overcrowded hospital facilities. Even when there are enough staff members, the system is still stretched due to a lack of resources. Beds and equipment are in short supply, with the UK facing a severe shortage of CT scan machines and MRI machines. Furthermore, cuts in funding have limited the NHS's capacity to purchase new equipment and hire additional staff. The NHS is also struggling to retain enough medical professionals, as wages and salaries are often lower than in the private sector. This is likely to have a detrimental effect on the quality of care provided, as those on the frontline of healthcare are increasingly overworked and stressed.

Brexit and the NHS

Brexit has had a significant effect on the NHS, with the political uncertainty surrounding the consequences of the UK's exit from the European Union (EU) causing issues in terms of both funding and staffing. In terms of funding, the NHS is no longer receiving the benefits it had from being a member of the EU – especially in terms of staff relocation, work and pension benefits, as well as the millions of pounds it received from Horizon 2020 research funding. Brexit has caused a significant reduction in the number of EU-born professionals working in the NHS, as freedom of movement across EU member states has ceased. This has had a serious impact on delivery of care as there were already shortages of nurses and doctors in the UK.

Impact of Rising Costs

Rising costs are yet another factor that is putting a strain on the NHS. The cost of drugs and medical equipment is increasing due to inflation, and this is one of the major reasons for the NHS's current financial woes, as it has not had time to recover since the pandemic. The cost of providing healthcare to the elderly population is also increasing, as medical advances mean people are living longer. This is putting a strain on the NHS's resources, which are already stretched to breaking point due to austerity measures and underfunding.

The Conservative party has long tried to present themselves as champions of healthcare reform, with successive governments introducing a range of policies designed to reduce costs and make the NHS more efficient. However, many of these reforms have been controversial, with accusations of cuts to frontline services and an erosion of the principle of free healthcare for all. Trust in the government was further eroded during the pandemic as, among other things, contracts for PPE provision appear to have been awarded to friends of MP’s in government, with millions of pounds being wasted as they were unable to deliver. All this has created a political environment in which the NHS is seen as a financial burden rather than a vital public service, further exacerbating the underfunding problem.


Underfunding, Brexit, rising costs and conservative politics are all major challenges facing the NHS. This has led to a situation in which the NHS is struggling to provide quality healthcare to its citizens, with long waiting times, a lack of resources, and a diminishing number of medical professionals. In order to make the system more efficient and to ensure the NHS is properly funded, there needs to be a radical political shift in the way the UK government views healthcare. The NHS must be able to provide competitive salaries and working hours to attract medical professionals. It should also provide a positive work environment with good working conditions. Understaffing cannot be addressed solely through the training of domestic staff, and the need for more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals will need to be managed through immigration – and these immigrants need to be met with a system that is designed to make them feel welcome and not make them jump through hoops and barriers. The current regulations surrounding visa, sponsorship and wages are insufficient and must be reviewed. If you are a healthcare professional from abroad, the UK government and NHS should be welcoming them with open arms, providing onsite training to become familiar with how the NHS work. This job can be subcontracted to the private sector where any number of recruitment and healthcare staffing agencies could apply for contracts to get international healthcare professionals ready to join the NHS. They should be permitted to work as ‘healthcare professional in training’ and can be staffed at band 4 level until they finish their training, at which point they are eligible to apply for whatever band grade is appropriate for their skill set and experience.

Additionally, it should promote flexible working, so that medical professionals have the freedom to fit their work around their lifestyle. Finally, the NHS must stick to its principles of clinical governance – ensuring training and development opportunities for medical staff so that they are able to stay up to date with the latest technology and skills in order to address 21st century challenges.