If We Want to ‘Level Up’ We Must Change The Funding Formula

“Talk is cheap” – my Dad used to say this to me, if I told him I was going to do my chores but didn’t do them. It was a fair challenge to my teenage self! It’s ok to have good intentions, but if we don’t act to back up what we say, then our words are meaningless. One of my most recent blogs explored what we can do to tackle poverty and health inequalities. One of the things I didn’t focus on, but which deserves a blog all to itself is the inequality caused by and the social injustice which is perpetuated by the funding formula used within the NHS. I will demonstrate, using a few examples why this formula is so antiquated and suggest that the ‘Morecambe Bay Formula’ which we have developed might be a better model for the future if we want to put our money where our mouth is! I’m sure with Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, that the time has come for us to take this seriously.

 

The current Carr-Hill Formula takes into consideration various factors. Generally it’s what we call a weighted-population formula and distributes money and resources according to various complex factors but puts insufficient weighting on the issue of deprivation. What this means in practice is that wealthier areas (like the South East) have significantly more money, per head of population, spent on them than areas (like the East Midlands or the North West), where poverty rates are much higher and health outcomes are significantly worse.

 

Let me give you two examples from here in Morecambe Bay as to how that makes little or no sense if we are serious about levelling up.

 

Here are a couple of graphics showing how life expectancy changes along two different bus routes around Morecambe Bay (recognising that these are averages within these towns and are significantly worse within some more localised wards):

You can see the stark differences in life expectancy between people who live in Barrow-in-Furness and those who live in Ambleside, or those who are in Heysham compared to those in Levens. People in our areas of 10-20% lowest Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) are dying 10-15 years earlier than their counterparts in our wealthiest wards. Surely we care enough about this to want to change things?!

 

So, our team did a little exercise in which we thought together about how we might spend £500k, if we were going to try and ‘level up’. Our Bay, is broadly divided into three districts. The Furness Peninsula, South Lakeland and Lancaster District (which is basically North Lancashire). We divided the area up according to the lowest 10% IMD and distributed the money accordingly, knowing the kind of projects we could invest in to make a difference to people’s life expectancy and wellbeing. The results were stark! We found that out of £500k, we would spend around £232,000 in the Furness area (predominantly wards in Barrow and Millom), £267,000.50 in Lancaster District (predominantly Morecambe/Heysham and some wards of Lancaster) and just under £500 in South Lakeland! £500 out of half a million! But that’s how stark the differences are in our Geography of around 1000 square kilometres. When we then changed this formula to be based on our lowest 20% IMD areas, the South Lakes still only ended up with just over £1000.

 

We’ve also recently done a review of how many people in each area are living with Long Term conditions. What is very interesting is that in two almost identical areas in population size (Lancaster and Morecambe), but one with significantly more areas of increased deprivation (Morecambe), people in that area have a higher number of Long Term Conditions (LTCs). However, when it comes to the allocation of resources into the Primary Care Networks, working in these two areas, this is done on the size of the population, not the complexity of what those populations are dealing with. So, even though there are far more people living with multiple LTCs in Morecambe, compared to Lancaster, they are both allocated the same number of staff through the PCNs to deal with their relative problems.

 

This means that areas like Morecambe and Barrow are missing out twice over. They are not getting the money into their areas in the first place to allow them to level up on the ’causes of the causes’, as Sir Michael Marmot puts it, – i.e. they are not able to get into good preventative public health AND they are not given a fair weighting when it comes to helping those who are already living there with significantly more complex health needs. This means teams working in places like Morecambe can find it harder to recruit and their teams can suffer easier burn out, or are simply unable to provide the help to their communities that is needed. We know that economically poorer areas have higher populations of BAME citizens also, which is vital to understand if we’re serious about ‘Black Lives Matter’.

 

This injustice needs to stop if we are serious about tackling health inequalities. Talk is cheap. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is. We can’t just talk about levelling up, we must do it! We need action and that action needs to take the form of a recalculated funding formula, which ensures that the communities that need the most help are able to get it. When it comes down to it, I’m a pragmatist. There are pockets of poverty, even in our wealthiest areas and issues like frailty can make the provision of care more expensive (though one could argue that in poorer areas, we’re dealing with frailty 10-20 years before it is seen in wealthier populations). So…..we need to do two things:

 

  1. We need to change the way funding is given through the Primary Care Networks to ensure that those who have the greatest task, get the greatest help. This needs prioritising by the national leadership team.
  2. We need to ensure that we create a funding formula from the National  Team into the Integrated Care Systems in each of the regions and then within each ICS that recognises the complexities we’re dealing with when trying to level up. The funding formula based on IMD (either lowest 10 or 20%) is indeed quite extreme – perhaps it needs to be. Perhaps a more realistic formula is to to weight it 50:50, with half of it calculated according to the lowest 20% IMD and half according to the Carr-Hill Weighted formula. This has gained broad support across the board in our part of the world. We call it the Morecambe Bay formula (though it is with huge thanks to Mark Wight and Anji Stokes!). We believe it is far more socially just.

 

 

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Easter Reflections: A New World is Possible

I tested positive for Covid-19 on Good Friday. As a doctor it’s always tough to be off sick – you feel a mixture of guilt (because you know how hard your colleagues are working), frustration (because you want to be back out there serving your community) and helplessness (because there’s nothing you can do about it). I knew I had the virus before my result came through – I felt like I’d been hit by a bus – like all the energy had been knocked out of me and I was very achey. This, along with the cough and other symptoms has made me stop. I am forced to rest. I can’t just continue. I need to let my body recover. Covid-19 hasn’t only shown us the fragility of human life, but of the way we have constructed our systems together – the vast injustices afforded to more than half the world’s population and the damage we are doing to the planet itself. This virus has created an enforced rest for the majority of us and made us stop. And whilst we do so, the earth itself is regenerating – perhaps we are too.

 

This weekend, along with millions of people across the globe, our family will be celebrating Easter. During this rest there is time for me to reflect again on that incredible story and think about its implications for the world. Easter, I believe, perhaps more than any other time, gives us space to pause and ask ourselves what life is really about – what is it that we’re really living for?

 

Easter can be thought of in many ways. It seems to me that we have entered a new space in recent years to be able to discuss issues of spirituality much more openly again. Here are a few ways that I see Easter, if you’re interested (!):

 

1) Easter is about new beginnings. The chance to start over, to see the world radically differently in the light of what God reveals to us about his own self-giving, others-empowering love. It’s an opportunity for us to press the reset button and find the grace and hope for the world to be made new. In the midst of the pain and complexities of the global lockdown of COVID-19, multiple voices are beginning to call for a reimagined world. Jeremy Lent writes powerfully about the reality that everything has changed. He states that the ‘neo-liberal era’ is potentially over and therefore we have an opportunity to reset the foundations upon which we build our lives together on planet earth, whilst working for its regeneration. It’s well worth making yourself a cup of tea and pausing to read his reflections.

 

2) Easter is about a new economy. Easter is about debts being forgiven and a resetting of our priorities. Never, in all of human history, has there been such stark inequality between rich and poor, nor has the climate ever faced such an emergency. Our economic systems are entirely defunct for the needs of the global population and the environment in which we live. The old lie that ‘there is no such thing as society’ is exposed for what it is and the story of ‘self-centred, selfish man’ as the basis on which to build economic theory is broken. In its place new experiments are emerging around economies of wellbeing. This week Amsterdam declared it is going to be the first ‘doughnut city’ in the world – read this and let your heart leap – we’re talking about the kind of economy that is regenerative and distributive by design! The world made new! Jesus proclaimed the economics of Jubilee – a forgiving of all debts and the chance for the people and the land to rest. So radical it was never adopted, but his manifesto has never changed. We have an opportunity together to embrace a much more loving and radical economics if we want to. We don’t have to continue as we were…..In fact there are fresh global calls to cancel the debt of developing nations – now that would be a reset!

 

3) Easter is about a new politics. Bishop Tom Wright calls resurrection ‘THE political act’. In other words, he’s saying that the ultimate power of the world is not that held together by the likes of Trump and Putin, but the life-laid-down-love of the cross – no power can overcome this love – it is the ultimate force in the universe and it is legitimated in the resurrection of the son of God, who lives this way and overcomes death itself and empire in all its forms. This politics of love is non-violent, enemy-loving and full of peace. It does not erect walls, it builds bridges. It is full of compassion and mercy. It always hopes, always trusts and always perseveres. Russell Brand and Brad Evans have a fascinating conversation about a new politics of love – something we have been actively exploring in Morecambe Bay (See Roger Mitchell’s brilliant talk). They discuss how this is anything but ‘airy-fairy’. Love, rather, as the ultimate foundation of how we build our lives together gives us an alternative reality on which to build a fairer and kinder society. Brand is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I like his ability to ask good questions and provoke our ability to think as we challenge our own presuppositions. Some people are now coining the term ‘glocalisation’ to think about how we become more locally focused, whilst remaining globally connected and concerned about the plight of others around the world. In other words, glocalisation enables a much more relational, loving, connected politics and economics whilst also enabling us to learn from other great ideas and initiatives around the world and care about our fellow human brothers and sisters more. The politics of Jesus is seen throughout his life and ministry and his death and resurrection makes it even more possible: prioritise the poor, put children in the centre, instate women, free prisoners, heal the sick, welcome strangers, renew the creation….not a bad starting point for a new world.

 

4) Easter is about healing. As we behold the wounds inflicted on God himself, we find one who is truly with us in our own suffering. His therapeutic healing is one which draws alongside to be with us in our pain and distress, washing our feet, bearing and carrying our infirmities with Him – sometimes that results in incredible miracles but often it’s just the knowing that he is with us in it that is enough. We see this kind of incredible healing at work through our health and care workers across the globe right now and in countless tales of lives poured out in service to others. The whole point of healing is to bring wholeness. I wonder what our health and care systems would really be like if we put wellbeing and wholeness at the heart of the design process.

 

5) Easter is about salvation and redemption. I personally cannot align myself with a theology of penal substitution. I don’t have time or space in this blog to say why, but would recommend ‘A More Christlike God’ by my friend Brad Jersak, or this blog to explore the issue further, if you’re interested. As we look upon the crucified Christ, we don’t look upon someone appeasing an angry Father, rather we see God himself, misunderstood and rejected, nailed to a cross, breathing out forgiveness and revealing to humanity that this way of life-poured-out-love is stronger than death itself. This way of life saves us from our own selfishness, greed and ego-promotion and invites us into something far greater and more beautiful. The invitation of Easter is to reset our relationships with each other, the earth and God himself; to discover that God IS love, not at all like an Imperial Sovereign, and the very nature of the Trinity is self-giving, others-empowering love! The truth is that unless we’re willing to deal with our own internal mess, our own ego-mechanisms and projections, then we will never heal the mess of the world together. The invitation from Christ through the ages is for each of us to take up our own cross, to crucify our own selfish nature, which fights against the way of love and put on the ‘new self’, to be made into new creatures and partake in the new creation.

 

I believe we have an opportunity in this time to rest, reflect, reimagine and reset. If we dare to ask ourselves some deeper questions and become uncomfortable with the answers we are discovering; if we can allow ourselves to feel some of the discord about the way things have been, but also recognise the fear we have of stepping into a different way of being together and the grief cycle we must enter to let it go; if we can embrace the inconvenient truth that the earth and the global poor are speaking to us about the unsustainable nature of our neo-liberal world, then perhaps we have enough critical yeast to change us and inspire us towards a new world together. I take great comfort in the idea that God is with us in this struggle and works through us, by his Spirit, to bring reconciliation to a broken society. Over the last few days I have heard my favourite childhood bible verse, from the prophet Isaiah, a number of times. I leave it with you as food for thought:

 

Isaiah 43v1

”Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.“

 

 

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