Budget 2017: NHS reforms will 'fail' and put patients at risk without urgent help, warns Tory head of health committee

Exclusive: ‘The public are not seeing the positives of what should happen – they are just seeing a picture of cuts,’ Dr Sarah Wollaston says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 04 March 2017 16:16 GMT
Sarah Wollaston
Sarah Wollaston (PA)

NHS reforms will “fail” and patient safety put at risk without an emergency rescue in next week’s Budget, the Conservative head of the Commons Health Committee has warned.

In an interview with The Independent, Dr Sarah Wollaston urged Chancellor Philip Hammond to change course – or watch the “suffering” public turn against the Government’s running of the health service.

Dr Wollaston criticised claims that the NHS is “on a sustainable footing”, insisting that was simply not true because spending was failing to keep pace with soaring demand.

And she said it was vital the Chancellor – when delivering his Budget on Wednesday – finds extra funds for both adult social care and local NHS renewal plans, across the country.

The Sustainability and Transformation plans (STPs) are meant to allow health chiefs to shift treatments to more modern community facilities, potentially closing expensive, outdated buildings.

But Dr Wollaston said: “They don’t have the money to make the transformations before they make the cuts, and that is undermining them before they get going.

“That unrealistic funding, together with an unrealistic timetable, means they look like they are implementing cuts, which means they will then lose public support.

“If we do not have the funding to put in place the transformation of services, we will see these plans fail.”

Ahead of the Budget, the former GP urged Mr Hammond to:

* Stop raiding capital budgets to pay for-day-to-day NHS spending – the reason why the STPs are starved of funds

* Put extra funds into social care, after moves in the autumn to allow local councils to raise extra money were widely criticised as inadequate

* Ensure that funding is genuinely “new money”, rather than another transfer from within the NHS

* End the cuts to Public Health England and to Health Education England, warning they were another “false economy”

Dr Wollaston described the NHS as being in the middle of a “perfect storm” of rising waiting times in A&E, patients unable to leave hospital and other patients on trolleys unable to be transferred in.

“Hospitals can’t admit on to wards, so they cancel routine procedures which are their funding base and end up in spiral of decline, with patients suffering,” she said.

“Bed occupancy rates are at unsustainable levels and we are hearing stories of not only routine, but urgent, surgery being cancelled.

“There have been two cases in which urgent neurological procedures did not take place, resulting in the deaths of two patients, which is extremely serious.”

Dr Wollaston has become an influential and independent voice at Westminster, emphasising her real-world experience and determination not to become “a tribal politician”.

She has clashed with Theresa May over the latter’s claim to have injected an extra £10bn into the NHS – a figure Dr Wollaston described as “artificial”, partly because it obscured cuts to wider health budgets.

Hospital trusts are on course for a financial deficit of up to £850m at the end of the financial year, she pointed out.

Also, local clinical commission groups (CCGs) are being forced to hold back £800m to prevent an even bigger black hole at hospitals. “Again, this is patient care that is being cut back,” Dr Wollaston said.

The select committee chair said she was “quite optimistic” that the Chancellor would inject money into social care, where there is huge political pressure.

But on Friday the NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said he was not expecting Mr Hammond to end the damaging transfers from capital to revenue budgets.

Last week, MPs voted through £1.2bn to prop up revenue spending – which Dr Wollaston described as “an unsustainable position”.

“This is not allowed, yet this is the third year we have done this,” she said. “Repairs are being put off, shunted down the stream, and the wonderful new community facilities promised are not happening.

“It is only those facilities that allow the closure of beds, so the public are not seeing the positives of what should happen – they are just seeing a picture of cuts.”

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