10 Jul 2014

After years of austerity, NHS ‘could experience a funding crisis’

The Nuffield Trust is not a think tank known for generating alarming, or indeed alarmist, headlines.  So when it produces a report that has the word “crisis” in it, you have to take notice.

Its new research “Into the Red?” is described as “the most comprehensive look yet” at how the NHS has coped with four years of austerity.

And what it has found is this:  “The NHS is poorly placed to deal with continuing austerity and could experience a funding crisis before the 2015 general election.” The report adds that provisional data from the 2013/14 financial year shows that cracks are starting to show in a system under severe financial pressure.

Why? NHS funding has been effectively flat for the term of this parliament. Trust hospitals are either in the red (one-third of acute trusts) or are having to dip into reserves.

We already know, of course, about the increase in emergency and outpatient admissions and the pressures on GPs, who have seen a decrease in their share of the NHS budget.

On top of this, spending on agency staff has soared, as has the cost of drugs. There is essentially no give in the system.

While it is not in the report, the Nuffield Trust thinks the NHS needs an extra £2bn in the next financial year and another £2bn for the year after that.

As of yet, not surprisingly, no politician has yet begun to discuss extra finances for the NHS. The closest we have come is the think tank, the IPPR, raising the subject of increasing national insurance to pay for more funding.

But the clamour is growing for something to be done – be it through extra taxes, paying to see your GP, reconfiguring services, better use of technologies, more care in the community.

In fact, the ideas are endless. The point remains about how quickly it can be done before the cracks in the system become fissures.

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