NHS waiting times for cancer treatment and routine operations will “get worse” and it is almost certain that the health service will need a Government bailout after the election to prevent a further deterioration of services, a leading health expert has warned.
Professor John Appleby of the King’s Fund think-tank said problems in the NHS went beyond pressures on A&E and warned that neither the Conservatives’ nor Labour’s spending pledges would be enough to improve things. In its latest report on NHS performance, the King’s Fund said that waiting times for cancer treatment continued to worsen in the second quarter of 2014. The proportion of patients waiting more than 18 weeks also hit its highest levels for seven years in November, the group’s Quarterly Monitoring Report said.
Professor Appleby said the situation for the NHS was now “critical”. “The politicians are focused on election day – but the NHS can’t take that short-term view,” he said. “Unless the politicians want to explain to the public that we will have to wait longer in A&E, there will have to be more money.”
The Government has pledged a £2bn increase in funding for the NHS next year, while Labour has said health spending would go up by £2.5bn. However, transfers of money out of the NHS and into social care under the Government’s flagship £5bn Better Care Fund will mean hospitals continue to struggle, Professor Appleby said.
Hospitals would also be burdened by new debts, with many having received emergency loans from the Government this year to maintain services to patients which will need to be paid off. Two-thirds of NHS trusts are relying on financial support from the Department of Health or are drawing down on their cash reserves, the King’s Fund’s report said.
A survey of hospital finance directors carried out for the report revealed widespread gloom, with one warning his hospital would “literally run out of cash” in March 2015, while one community and mental health trust director said it would have to lose 750 “mainly clinical” staff to balance the books next year.
A Department of Health spokesperson said that the NHS was “busier than ever”.
“We are backing the NHS’ plan for the future and have provided an extra £2bn next year to transform out-of-hospital care,” he said.
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