NHS spending will have to be cancelled or delayed, say commissioners

1 Jun 17

Half of the financial leaders of NHS commissioning bodies who responded to a survey by a health charity have said spending commitments will have to be delayed or cancelled this year.

Clinical Commissioning Groups heads have told the King’s Fund this will be necessary to met this year’s financial targets.

Today’s quarterly monitoring report from The King’s Fund highlights the “difficult” financial years ahead facing the NHS.

More than 40% of the CCGs said they plan to review or reduce the level of planned treatment they commission following the recent downgrading of the 18-week referral to treatment target.

The NHS relaxed the need for hospitals to carry out 92% of non-urgent operations within 18 weeks in March this year in the face of burgeoning pressure on the health services.

Just under half of CCGs were also uncertain or concerned about their ability to increase funding for mental health services in line with the national commitments.

Surveys were sent to 256 CCG managers and 84 responded. 

Richard Murray, director of policy for The King’s Fund, said: “With many CCGs planning to delay or cancel spending, local NHS leaders will be forced to make tough decisions about priorities and this is likely to have a direct impact on what care patients can access and how long they have to wait for it.

“This reinforces the underlying reality that demand for services is continuing to outstrip the rate at which the NHS budget is growing.”

The King’s Fund analysis followed a study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which highlighted that by 2021 the health service could be facing a £30bn funding shortfall.

The report indicated NHS finances improved over the last quarter of 2016/17, with more than half of trust finance directors (54%) expecting to have ended the year in surplus, significantly more than were forecasting this three months ago.

Although, this has been accounted for by one-off actions such as land sales and payments from the Sustainability and Transformation Fund which is conditional central government funding.

There was also progress in reducing spending on agency staff but the report states “this financial year promises to be another difficult one for the NHS”.

Today’s report also notes that while trust finance directors are more optimistic than at this time last year, 43% of them expect to overspend their budget and 46% are concerned about meeting financial targets.

This lack of confidence extends to the commissioning sector, with only one in five CCG finance leads confident they can achieve financial balance this year.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, said: “These deeply alarming figures show the NHS is not safe in Conservative hands.

Lamb reiterated his party’s commitment to putting a penny on income tax to raise £6bn-a-year for the NHS and social services.

Labour has pledged to increase funding for health and social care services by £37bn over next five years.

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