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A mouth-watering alternative to actual cake

Thursday, 22 November 2018

A mouth-watering alternative to actual cake

Things are looking up. The health secretary, the wonderfully enthusiastic Mr Hancock, appeared in the people’s newspaper, the Daily Mail, to pledge £3.5bn over the next five years to community services and primary care.

This is in addition to recent pledges that the NHS long-term plan will reverse the decline of hospitals, reduce waiting lists, improve public health, discover new cures, prevent what can’t be cured, solve obesity, end loneliness, make the NHS a lovely place to work, eradicate health inequality, bring back social care and ensure that no one has to practice medicine without the latest apps.  

For an average health secretary this would be a tall order, but Mr Hancock is far from average.

He has discovered far more quickly than his predecessors how to put the fun into funding.

You may recall that the prime minister, Mrs May, gave the NHS a generous birthday present – a gift voucher for £20.5bn redeemable in 2023. It seemed like a nice gesture, until you remember that in recent years the government had given the NHS a stapler, a jar of pickles, a fire extinguisher and a set of novelty hand towels.

So allowing for the disappointment of past birthdays and spread over the next five, Mrs May’s present amounts to a little less than the splendid picture on the box – the equivalent of ripping open the train set you always wanted to find only straight bits of track and a few signals; rolling stock to follow.

Health economists have calculated that the funding settlement could allow the NHS to make up some of the ground lost in previous years but will almost certainly not be enough to cope with rising demand or to sort out the dilapidation of estates and infrastructure caused by years of neglect.

As this week’s announcement shows, Mr Hancock is a man not easily deterred by reality. His secret weapon is Magic Funding Cake. Unlike most cakes, which are gone when they’re gone, Magic Funding Cake is the cake that never gets any smaller.

All good cakes depend on the quality of their ingredients. This one contains only the finest humbug, fudge and good intentions bound together with syrup of fibs.

The art, as any good baker will tell you, is in the presentation. Start by showing everyone the cake, put it away, then show them a slice. Tell them it is a new slice. From the same cake or a different cake? Let them guess.

So it is that Mr Hancock is able to tell the Daily Mail that £3.5bn for primary and community care is “new”, even though we have already seen the cake before and know how many other mouths there are to feed. The official NHS announcement happily confirms that this is a “major new investment”.

Further “new” slices can be revealed as time goes on. Take care that the number of slices does not exceed the overall size of the cake and try not to get caught if it does. NHS funding is complicated, so the chances of detection are slim.  Slices earmarked for one thing may well be needed for another later, or may disappear altogether in the event of a messy withdrawal from the EU, so don’t be too quick to hand them out.

Remember the golden rule: it is perfectly possible to have one’s cake and eat it, eat it again and then issue a press release about a new cake.

Master baker: Julian Patterson