King’s Fund urges honesty in NHS funding debate

11 Jul 16

The government should be honest about the difficulties facing the NHS and what can realistically be delivered within the current budget, a think-tank has urged.

According to report published by the King’s Fund today, several of the government’s flagship aims for the service are unlikely to be achievable if restoring the NHS’ financial balance remains the priority.

Deficits in the NHS 2016 recommends that waiting time targets be revisited and that the commitment to deliver a seven-day health service be reconsidered for feasibility.

Data in the report indicates that NHS providers and commissioners recorded an aggregate deficit of £1.85bn in 2015/16, a threefold increase on the previous year, and the largest deficit in NHS history. This is despite tough measures introduced by the government and NHS bodies to reduce costs.

The report makes it clear that the extent of overspending in the NHS is not a consequence of mismanagement but is instead evidence of a “systemic problem” that means the service is no longer able to meet rising demand while maintaining standards of care, within its allocated budget.

It also warns that a drop in the quality of patient care is inevitable if restoring balanced books is the government’s top priority.

Helen McKenna, one of the authors of the report and a senior policy advisor at the King’s Fund, said: “It is no longer credible to argue that the NHS can continue to meet increasing demand for services, deliver current standards of care and stay within its budget.

“This is widely understood within the NHS and now needs to be debated with the public,” she added. She advised there “were no easy choices, but it would be disastrous to adopt a mindset that fails to acknowledge the serious state of the NHS in England today.

“We are drawing attention to these issues now while there is still time to have an informed and honest debate about the best way of sustaining and transforming care.”

Although the King’s Fund suggests that new models of care could provide a means to save money and improve services, it highlighted they will not deliver significant savings in the short term. Equally, productivity could be improved, by improving clinical practice and reducing waste, although this cannot be delivered at the pace or scale needed to meet the £22bn efficiency savings target by 2020/21.

The report also warns of the fallout from the Brexit vote, and claims the following political and economic instability are likely to add to the financial pressure facing the NHS.

Last week, junior doctors and medical students in the final two years of their training voted to reject a new deal between the British Medical Association and the government over pay and working hours. Despite this, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he will impose the deal on the NHS.

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