Funding squeeze will damage NHS care, warn hospitals

Bed in a modern clinic corridor

A continued government squeeze on funding will cause a deterioration in care quality on the National Health Service, a report has warned. 

NHS Providers, representing hospitals and primary care organisations, said unless more money is made available, waiting lists for operations will continue to grow and people will wait longer in A&E amid increasing demand for services.

The Care Quality Commission independent health watchdog has noted “deterioration in quality” of some services, the report said.

The report, The State of the Provider Sector, cited evidence from the National Audit Office showing there was no plan to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of trusts, with 50% of chairs and chief executives believing finances will deteriorate over the next six months.

Staff will become increasingly overworked and stressed due to under-staffing and increased demand for services, NHS Providers said.

Overall the NHS will be unable to achieve the targeted £22 billion in savings through demand management, efficiency and productivity gains by 2020 as services are not modernising quickly enough.

There has been a sharp rise in demand for hospital, community, mental health and ambulance services in recent years, according to the report.

NHS Providers called for a smaller set of key priorities, a medium-term plan to close the gap between goals and funding available, and support for staff.

The NHS needs better leadership from government, more time to transform services and a better understanding of the challenges it will face in the period from 2020-2040, according to NHS Providers.

Service Transformation Plans (STPs) being drawn up across England to help bring together local health and social care economies, but these include plans to close down services in some areas and centralise specialities, something likely to be opposed in affected areas.

In a response statement, Dr Mark Porter, the British Medical Association council chair, said: “With services struggling to keep up with demand, waiting times too high and a shortage of staff and resource, we desperately need a plan to put the NHS on a sustainable, long-term footing. We need the government to face up to reality and commit to invest what is desperately needed.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said in a statement that since 2010, the NHS has hired 25,800 extra clinical staff, 2,300 more paramedics, and added there are nearly 40% more district nurse training places available.

The number of trainee doctors working in mental health settings has doubled and training for mental health nurses has expanded faster than any other speciality, the spokesperson said.

“As this report acknowledges, the NHS is treating a record number of patients and is making clear progress to balance the books — achievements that wouldn't be possible without our dedicated workforce,” the spokesperson said.

However independent think tanks say UK funding for its health service is falling behind the EU average level (as a percentage of GDP), having a direct effect on waiting times and clinical care.