GOVERNMENT plans to change the way the NHS is funded would see the North East lose nearly £700m while Conservative areas benefit, an independent expert has warned.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley says clinical commissioning groups set up by his NHS reforms should be funded according to the age of a population rather than deprivation as that is the principal determinant of health need in an area.
But Clare Bambra, professor of public health policy and acting director of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University, has warned that by doing this it will lead to poorer areas of the North losing out to more affluent areas of the South.
She said: “If Andrew Lansley decided to go down the route that he suggested in a recent speech then it is particularly serious for the North East.
“Severing the link with deprivation will 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.”
At present, funds are allocated to primary care trusts by a complex formula that takes account of age, deprivation, health need and the local cost of providing care.
But Mr Lansley has argued that parts of the country where a higher proportion of the population are elderly have a greater demand for healthcare and need more resources.
However, fears have been raised that a North-South divide in health inequalities will widen if this principle is deployed.
It also means more money will be supplied for areas voting Tory and less for those voting Labour, Prof Bambra said.
A report by Prof Bambra found that if an age-only allocation approach had been taken, the North East would have lost out on £691m of NHS funding.
She said: “The data suggests 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 and most affluent.
“Regions that would have the biggest gains have a higher proportion of electors who voted Conservative; the biggest potential losses are concentrated in areas with more support for Labour.”
Last night, the Department of Health claimed Prof Bambra’s report was based on a flawed analysis so the figures it quotes are inaccurate.
A spokesman added: “There has never been any intention of allocating NHS resources according to age alone.
“The Secretary of State is not suggesting that deprivation shouldn’t be part of the future funding formula – just that age should continue to be the primary factor.
“We are making sure that funding is given to areas that need it most. The Secretary of State has asked an independent body of experts for advice on how best to achieve this. No decisions have been made.
“The Health Act has given the NHS its first ever duty to reduce health inequalities and we have ring-fenced public heath funding for the first time.
“These measures will help ensure that patients get the high-quality healthcare that they deserve.”