Shropshire Star

Toby Neal: Population growth is elephant in the room

A little news item from this week with potentially far reaching consequences.

Waiting around has become a great NHS tradition

Almost entirely due to net migration, the population of the UK is projected to head for a near 10 per cent increase from 2021 to 2036, which is a much more rapid rise than had been expected.

It's a projection from the Office for National Statistics.

As you may know my view is such projections, particularly in the sphere of economic forecasts, should be seen in the same light as long range weather forecasts, as they often turn out to be spectacularly wrong. Like long range weather forecasts they do, however, give us something to talk about.

The issues brought to the fore by a rise in the population don't, though, tend to get talked about. There is a distinct reluctance among our politicians, even though a big rise in the population will affect, and potentially derail, everything they propose and promise.

If the ONS has got its sums anything like right, this is the breaking of the NHS approaching at high speed. Even now you don't have to go far to hear people saying, including politicians on all sides, that the NHS is broken, or from people whose relatives are being cared for in makeshift – but increasingly permanent – wards in hospital corridors, who describe it, in their words, as a Third World service.

If that's the situation now, how will the NHS cope with another 6.6 million people on its books within just 12 years? It is not necessarily the rise in population per se which is the difficulty, but the speed of the rise, which will see Britain hit the 70 million mark a decade earlier than previously expected and, presumably, planned for.