Modern monetary theory for the post-pandemic NHS: Why budget deficits do not matter
NHS clinical directors are responsible for balancing departmental budgets, which can encompass staffing, equipment and operating theatres. As trust income is generally fixed, expenditure reduction is often attempted via recurrent cost improvement plans. In orthodox monetary theory, a departmental deficit contributes first to the hospital, then to the NHS, then to the national deficit. In the orthodox view, governments in deficit need to increase taxes and/or borrow money by issuing bonds (akin to mortgage loans), the interest on which is paid off for generations. Modern monetary theory offers a different perspective: Government deficits do not matter as much as orthodox theory claims, if at all. This is because governments have the monopoly right to create the money in which the deficit is denominated (so do not ever need to borrow something that they can create). Therefore governments cannot default on debt in their own currency. Furthermore, government deficits equate to private surplus. This new perspective should influence microeconomic budget management at the clinical director level: The new emphasis being to deliver value and not just implement local savings to eliminate departmental deficits. This approach will become increasingly important in managing the huge surgical waiting lists that have accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic.