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It was a critical budget for Chancellor George Osborne and the coalition government of the Conservative and Liberal-Democrats; his last before the country goes to the polls in the general election of May 7.

In the aftermath, Mr Osborne found himself under pressure to disclose in more detail how he would pay for the savings for the taxpayer he announced amid predictions from some analysts that there would be a much sharper squeeze on public spending over the next couple of years.

It was also a budget that made no mention of the NHS, and appeared to offer little to social care. That in itself triggered political challenges and sparked the inevitable sparring which followed, effectively clearing the path for the countdown to the general election.

Children’s mental health funding

However, on closer inspection, as the small print came into focus, there were some morsels for health and social care and in particular for mental health care for young people. There was also a significant sum of money set aside for health data projects that would support the close integration of health and social care as the Care Act 2014 comes into force. 

While Labour leader Ed Miliband was still criticising the omission of the NHS from the Chancellor’s speech, the government confirmed that £1.25bn had been secured by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of the Budget, which will be directed towards helping children and new mothers with mental health issues. 

Mr Clegg described the money – which is designed to help 110,000 more children gain rapid access to mental health treatments – as bringing about “a seismic shift to revolutionise children’s mental healthcare.”

Cash for social care information projects

A further £20m has been set aside as part of the Budget to fund four health and social care information projects under the Connected Health Cities project in the north of England.
It will be delivered by the Northern Health Service Alliance (NHSA) with findings from the initiative – to compile large-scale city-wide data on 15 million people – being used to help shape future health and social care services. 

NHSA chief executive Dr Hakim Yadi described the project - Health North - as “a world first in civic partnerships sharing existing information to improve health and social care.”
“By following patients through different services and extracting information from many different organisations and databases, we can begin to drive health and social care transformation in the North,” he added.

There was also a pledge from the Government to explore ways of integrating spending around vulnerable groups of people, including joining up services for people with health and social care needs, in a move which follows Greater Manchester’s recent landmark agreement to bring together commissioning of around £6 billion of local health and social care budgets.

Spending to fall

For public managers, the most significant aspect of the 2015 budget was Mr Osborne’s decision to scale back somewhat from the levels of austerity that he had initially forecast in his 2014 autumn statement. Figures show that spending will still fall between 2015 and 2019 but the government now expects to spend an extra £28bn in the final year of the next parliament.

Charities raise concerns

But it was not a budget which gained widespread approval across all sectors involved in health and social care. Charities, senior health figures and opposition politicians reacted strongly to the broader lack of funding provided for social care. 

NHS Confederation Chief executive Rob Webster suggested that 400,000 fewer people would get publicly-funded social care help due to cuts and Mr Miliband warned of more “massive cuts” to social care under the Conservatives which would lead to added pressure placed on the NHS.

Richard Hawkes, chairman of the Care and Support Alliance, said: “We are disappointed that there is no extra funding for social care in the budget. The care system is on its knees and there is an urgent need to protect both health and social care funding.”

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