Patient care ‘threatened by lack of NHS capital spend’

8 Mar 19

Lack of investment in NHS infrastructure risks the quality of patient care, a health think-tank has said.

NHS trusts in England have seen a 21% reduction in their capital funding over the last eight years, which threatens to “undermine” the NHS’s ability to improve care, the Health Foundation said.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Capital investment is not a nice-to-have – failing to carry out repairs and invest in modern equipment and technology puts at risk the quality of patient care.

“It will also undermine the NHS’s ability to improve and transform care in line with the NHS long term plan.”

To bring capital spending in England in line with the OECD average an extra £3.5bn a year would be needed, according to analysis by the group.

This would need to rise to £4.1bn by 2023-24, the Health Foundation said.

Other OECD countries with comparable health services, such as Austria, Canada and Denmark, spend twice the proportion of GDP allocated to health capital investment as the UK.

The report, out today, noted that although a funding increase of 3.4% was announced by the government in 2018 for the NHS England budget until 2023-24, no commitment to long-term funding for capital has been set out.

The report also pointed to a maintenance backlog which has been rising in recent years, climbing from £4.4bn in 2013-14 to over £6bn by 2017-18.

The Health Foundation said that the backlog is now larger than the entire annual DHSC capital budget, posing an ongoing risk to the quality and safety of patient care.

DHSC’s vision for a world-leading tech and data-driven health services is “unrealistic” as underfunding has left the NHS with “Inadequate and ageing IT infrastructure”, the report claimed.

Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Hospitals badly need more capital spending to be able to offer patients the latest treatments, tackle a maintenance backlog and modernise outdated technology that wastes staff time.”

The report coincides with separate analysis of a British Social Attitudes survey by the King’s Fund think-tank, which showed public satisfaction with the NHS is at its lowest point for a decade.

A sample of 2,926 people showed that overall satisfaction with NHS stood at 53% - a drop of three percentage points since 2017 and 16 points from a historical peak in 2010.

The survey was conducted shortly after prime minister Theresa May announced a £20.5bn funding package for the NHS until 2023-24.

Ruth Robertson, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said: “In the short term at least, the promise of more money doesn’t appear to buy satisfaction. The public identified long-standing issues such as staff shortages and waiting times amongst the main reasons for their dissatisfaction and cash alone will not resolve these.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We want patients to receive world-class care in world-class facilities and we have supported the NHS with £3.9 billion to upgrade facilities, which is already delivering improvements up and down the country - from new A&Es to state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.”

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