NHS financial bosses have said that care for patients will not suffer despite the most extreme funding squeeze in the health service's history.
In a survey of 188 finance directors of hospitals and local NHS commissioning groups, more than half said they expected the level of service actually experienced by patients to remain steady, while another third said that services would actually improve.
Their predictions come despite a bleak financial outlook for the NHS. Only 12 per cent of finance managers said they felt either quite or very confident that their financial targets would be met in the coming year, according to the survey by the Healthcare Financial Management Association.
However, doctors, who warned that financial pressures are beginning to put a strain on crucial NHS services including A&E and GP services, said that the optimism was misplaced.
Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association Council said that while frontline staff were “doing everything possible to deliver high quality patient care” the gap between demand and investment was “not sustainable".
"The reality on the front line is that patient care is already being affected by a financial crisis in the NHS,” he said. “You don't have to look far to see a system which is under intense pressure: queues in our GP surgeries and emergency departments, bed shortages, hospitals being used as a holding place for elderly patients who should be cared for in their community, general practice under unsustainable pressure.”
John Appleby, chief economist at the King's Fund think tank said: “The optimism about the state of patient care suggests that, at least for now, the NHS has coped reasonably well with its financial pressures. The question is how much longer it can do so, especially as money gets very tight in 2015/16.”