NHS will be forced to make cuts without emergency bailout, chief executive warns

'It is going to be very hard for the NHS to do all that it is being asked to do over the next year and the years beyond'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 10 October 2017 16:40
NHS funding plans need to be 'amended', its chief executive warned
NHS funding plans need to be 'amended', its chief executive warned

The NHS will be forced to make cuts without an emergency Budget bailout next month, its chief executive has warned.

Simon Stevens urged the Government to recognise that its current funding plans must be “amended” to avoid damaging decisions for patients.

But the warning came as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt triggered a fresh political row when he hinted the cash-strapped NHS would be required to spend more on pay next year.

Mr Hunt confirmed that the 1 per cent NHS pay cap has been scrapped – but admitted the Treasury had yet to agree to fund the cost of higher pay.

Labour and the trade unions immediately joined forces to warn that “hospitals will be forced to cut other services to find the funds”.

Meanwhile, Mr Stevens, giving evidence to MPs, revealed he had not been asked to plan for a Brexit “no deal” – despite Theresa May announcing that preparations were under way.

“This is a matter for the Department of Health and other parts of Government,” he told the Commons Health Select Committee.

At the general election, the Conservatives promised an extra £8bn for the NHS, but were unable to say how much would be backloaded to the end of the parliament in 2022.

The British Medical Association (BMA) attacked “smoke and mirrors”, because the £8bn included £5bn already allocated two years earlier.

On Tuesday, the Care Quality Commission highlighted an NHS “straining at the seams”, pointing to staff shortages, rising demand and a quality of care becoming “precarious”.

Asked about funding, Mr Stevens said: “The pencilled in funding for next year and the year after looks extremely challenging.

“If that is not amended, it is going to be very hard for the NHS to do all that it is being asked to do over the next year and the years beyond.”

Pointed to the looming Budget, he added: “The decisions taken on 22 November will determine the shape of the NHS for the next year and the years after.”

Later, Mr Stevens laid bare his frustrations about funding, telling the MPs: “We are spending £23bn less than if we were spending at German and French levels – and there are consequences of that.”

On Brexit, asked if he had been told “by your political masters to prepare the NHS for a no deal Brexit”, he replied: “We have not.”

However, he played down fears of an exodus of EU health staff, arguing there was “no reason why we should not continue to roll out a big welcome”.

Earlier, Mr Hunt became the first cabinet minister to say the pay cap had been scrapped, after Theresa May said only that “flexibility” would be allowed from next year.

However, the Health Secretary did not say whether he expected future pay awards to be at or above inflation – now running at almost 3 per cent.

And, asked whether the NHS would be “fully funded” by the Treasury for higher pay, he alarmed MPs by replying: “That is something I can’t answer right now.”

Sitting alongside Mr Stevens at the health committee, Jim Mackey, the chief executive of NHS Improvement, warned: “It’s very hard to imagine how that sort of pay award could be internally financed.”

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