King’s Fund: NHS performance worsens as it heads into deficit

26 Mar 15

The performance of the NHS has deteriorated over the last two years of the coalition government, and there is a real risk patient care will suffer as the health service heads into deficit, an assessment by the King’s Fund has found.

In the second part of its examination of the coalition’s NHS reforms and performance, the think-tank said waiting times were at their highest levels for a number of years and targets were being missed.

The NHS under the coalition government report stated that, although NHS performance held up well for the first three years of the parliament, it had now deteriorated. Target waiting times for A&E, hospital treatment and cancer treatment had all been missed, and hospital bed occupancy has increased to very high levels.

The finances of the health service have also suffered, with hospitals and other providers of care now overspending their budgets by more than £800m. The NHS was likely to record a substantial deficit in the final year under the coalition, even though the government had met its pledge to increase the NHS budget in real terms, averaging 0.8% a year.

King’s Fund chief economist John Appleby, the lead author of the report, said the next government would ‘inherit a health service that has run out of money and is operating at the very edge of its limits’.

Additional funding of £8bn a year by 2020 is the minimum requirement for the NHS to continue to meet patient needs and maintain standards of care, he added.

‘While the NHS has performed well in the face of huge challenges, there is now a real risk that patient care will deteriorate as service and financial pressures become overwhelming.

‘More optimistically, with the economy recovering, there could soon be an opportunity to think about public spending choices and the kind of health services we want in a fresh light. Future debate about the NHS should focus not on how parsimonious we need to be but on how generous we want to be.’

This is the second in a two-part examination from the King’s Fund looking at the coalition’s health service polices. The first report, published last month, concluded that the government’s wide-ranging reforms to the health service were ‘a damaging strategic error’.


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