Patients may have to wait longer for NHS treatment as budgets are increasingly squeezed, the organisation that represents local health bodies across the country has warned.
A predicted real-terms funding drop of £330m in the next three years will result in a “slowing down” of access to routine care, said Julie Wood, the head of NHS Clinical Commissioners.
On paper, local health budgets appear to be increasing, with Theresa May claiming earlier this year that “funding is now at record levels for the NHS”. However, rising inflation and a growing population mean that by 2019-20, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – responsible for planning healthcare provision in each area of the UK – will face a shortfall of £5.72 per person on average compared to this year.
“The potential consequences will vary from area to area but could mean taking decisions about slowing down access to routine care and thus slowing down spend,” said Ms Wood in a statement. “It could be about looking at where services are provided and it could be about looking at the relative priority of where the NHS spends its [money].”
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, faced criticism in March after he indicated patients may have to wait longer than 18 weeks for non-urgent operations such as cataracts and hip replacements in a “trade off” for improvement in other areas.
A target that no patient should have to wait longer than 18 weeks for a hospital operation from when they are referred by their GP has been in place since 2004, but the number of patients waiting longer than that is rising. Politicians, charities and health experts condemned the suggestion the target could be softened, with shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth calling the plans “appalling”.
The Conservatives promised to retain the 18-week target in their general election manifesto, but lawyers have suggested Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt may have broken the law by failing to enforce it in his mandate to NHS England for 2017-18.
NHS Clinical Commissioners said other pressures including rising demand for services and an ageing population would add to difficulties faced around the country.
Ms Wood said savings could be made by withdrawing funding for medicines and treatments considered “low value”, adding to the list of former prescription items patients now have to pay for such as cough medicine and gluten-free food.
“We’ve been working with our members, NHS England and partners across the health and care system on identifying medicines and other items of low clinical value that we should not be spending the NHS pound on as it can be better used elsewhere,” she said.
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
1/6 The elderly
“We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service, there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter, but we have the added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population,” Theresa May has said. Waits of over 12 hours in A&E among elderly people have more than doubled in two years, according to figures from NHS Digital.
2/6 Patients going to A&E instead of seeing their GPs
Jeremy Hunt has called for a “honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments”, saying that around a third of A&E patients were in hospital unnecessarily. Mr Hunt told Radio 4’s Today programme the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called “very serious problems at some hospitals” by suggesting pressures were increasing in part because people are going to A&Es when they should not. He urged patients to visit their GP for non-emergency illnesses, outlined plans to release time for family doctors to support urgent care work, and said the NHS will soon be able to deliver seven-day access to a GP from 8am to 8pm. But doctors struggling amid a GP recruitment crisis said Mr Hunt’s plans were unrealistic and demanded the Government commit to investing in all areas of the overstretched health service.
3/6 Simon Stevens, head of NHS England
Reports that “key members” of Ms May’s team used internal meetings to accuse Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, of being unenthusiastic and unresponsive have been rejected by Downing Street. Mr Stevens had allegedly rejected claims made by Ms May that the NHS had been given more funding than required.
4/6 Previous health policy, not funding
In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge, Ms May acknowledged the NHS faced pressures but said it was a problem that had been “ducked by government over the years”. She refuted the claim that hospitals were tackling a “humanitarian crisis” and said health funding was at record levels. “We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need,” said the Prime Minister. “They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required… Funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.” But doctors accused Ms May of being “in denial” about how the lack of additional funding provided for health and social care were behind a spiralling crisis in NHS hospitals.
5/6 Target to treat all A&E patients within four hours
Mr Hunt was accused of watering down the flagship target to treat all A&E patients within four hours. The Health Secretary told MPs the promise – introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 2000 – should only be for “those who actually need it”. Amid jeers in the Commons, Mr Hunt said only four other countries pledged to treat all patients within a similar timeframe and all had “less stringent” rules. But Ms May has now said the Government will stand by the four-hour target for A&E, which says 95 per cent of patients must be dealt with within that time frame.
6/6 No one
Mr Hunt was accused of “hiding” from the public eye following news of the Red Cross’s comments and didn’t make an official statement for two days. He was also filmed refusing to answer questions from journalists who pursued him down the street yesterday to ask whether he planned to scrap the four-hour A&E waiting time target. Sky News reporter Beth Rigby pressed the Health Secretary on his position on the matter, saying “the public will want to know, Mr Hunt”. “Sorry Beth, I’ve answered questions about this already,” replied Mr Hunt. “But you didn’t answer questions on this. You said it was over-interpreted in the House of Commons and you didn’t want to water it down. Is that what you’re saying?” said Ms Rigby. “It’s very difficult, because how are we going to explain to the public what your intention is, when you change your position and then won’t answer the question, Mr Hunt”. But the Health Secretary maintained his silence until he reached his car and got in.
The organisation said it was essential the £8bn of additional funding for the NHS by 2022-23 promised by the Tories in the lead-up to the general election was seen in local health budgets in the next two years.
Policy analysts called this pledge “deeply disappointing”, with The Health Foundation predicting it will create a funding gap of £12bn in the next four years when faced with increasing demand fuelled by an ageing population and the rising cost of new treatments.
Andrew Pepper, chair of the NHS Clinical Commissioners' Finance Forum, called for "realism about what the NHS can deliver, support for local decision-making and ring-fenced funding for transformation".
"Additional funding will help with this and we are calling on the Government to ensure that the money promised in the lead up to the election is to be allocated into CCG budgets sooner rather than later," he said.Reuse content