Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which acts as as bridge between trusts and the Department of Health, has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to call for extra investment on a long-term basis to address the “fragility of the wider NHS”.
The three-page letter calls for the Government to commit to increasing the NHS budget to £153bn by 2022/23 – a sum the Office for Budget Responsibility said was needed, given projected increased demand for services.
But Mr Hopson has warned that, due to the current state of NHS finances, “substantial progress” must be made before the Autumn Budget this year.
Mr Hopson said: “Despite planning for winter more thoroughly and extensively than before, it hasn’t been sufficient. Rising numbers of flu cases and more respiratory illness have placed intolerable pressures on staff.
“The NHS is no longer able to deliver the constitutional standards to which it is committed. We need to be realistic about what we can provide on the funding available.
“If we continue to run the NHS at close to 100 per cent capacity day in, day out, permanently in the red zone, it’s not surprising that the service can’t cope when we get a high, but entirely predictable, spike in demand.”
Warning that failure to act would lead to targets moving further out of reach, he said: “There is so much at stake. We can fix this, but there must be no more delay. The ball is now firmly in the Government’s court.”
The letter follows the Health Secretary’s admission on Wednesday that the NHS will need substantially increased funding in future, which should be delivered across a 10-year spending period.
The letter adds: “The Government now needs to set out how it will create the sustainable, long-term health and care funding settlement you have rightly called for.”
NHS Providers has said the Government must commit to review this year’s winter preparations, which Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said are “the best ever”, despite hospitals relying on a last-minute allocation of £335m in the Budget.
The Government has also guaranteed hospitals will be protected against further funding squeezes if they fail to hit increasingly remote financial targets.
The cancellation of non-urgent care, as advised by the NHS last week, will mean trusts, which are paid on a fee-for-service basis, miss out on income from these operations.
This will also make it harder to hit strict savings and performance targets and unlock the associated funding for delivering them.
NHS Providers’s intervention comes on the day after a leaked memo revealed Oxford’s Churchill Hospital was having to consider cutting back chemotherapy services for cancer patients because of staff shortages.
A letter from the hospital’s head of chemotherapy, Dr Andrew Weaver, said nurse numbers were down 40 per cent, and chemotherapy start dates may have to be pushed back or the number of cycles reduced.
Norman Lamb, a former Liberal Democrat minister, said the country had been “honest” about how to give the NHS more funding.
His party has called for adding a penny in the pound on income tax.
“The clear message from NHS leaders is that the Government must drop its sticking-plaster approach to the health service,” he said.
“The gap between demand and resources in the NHS is growing each year, with tragic human consequences across the country.
“The stark reality is that the current winter crisis is just a taster of what is to come unless ministers get to grips with the long-term funding shortfall facing the health service.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The NHS was given top priority in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years, and was recently ranked as the best and safest healthcare system in the world.
“We know there is a great deal of pressure in A&E departments and that flu rates are going up, and we are grateful to all NHS staff for their incredible work in challenging circumstances.
“That’s why we recently announced the largest single increase in doctor training places in the history of the NHS – a 25 per cent expansion.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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