Deluge of doctors not responsible for NHS cut in death rate

The NHS may be getting safer but it is becoming less productive and has failed to deliver sufficient bang for the bucks, a report shows.

Tens of thousands of extra doctors and nurses have been hired over the past dozen years but the increase in patients treated has not kept pace. Latest figures show the productivity of the NHS fell by 7.8 per cent between 1995 and 2008, or 0.6 per cent per year on average.

Most of the fall came after 2001, when the Government released vast amounts of cash to the NHS in the biggest bonanza since it was founded in 1948. Productivity remained broadly stable between 1995 and 2001, but nosedived between 2001 and 2008.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are likely to be seized upon by opposition parties as evidence that the NHS has squandered the extra billions. Critics of the Government say the NHS budget was allowed to rise too far and too swiftly for it to be spent wisely.

But the productivity figures do not take account of improvements in quality of care. Benefits such as longer GP consultations may reduce the quantity of care but deliver a net benefit in terms of more patients getting better.

To accommodate this, the ONS has developed a composite measure to show changes in productivity adjusted for improvements in quality. This shows that productivity fell by a smaller margin of 3.3 per cent over the 13-year period, an average 0.3 per cent a year fall on average.

The figures indicate the scope for efficiency savings in the NHS. David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, has instructed trusts to prepare for a shortfall of £20bn over the next four years.

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