1 Oct 2014

Tories and Labour failing to deal with NHS funding shortfall

And so the Conservatives have picked up the NHS gauntlet thrown down by Labour and announced that they would protect the health service budget and “continue to invest more” in the next parliament if elected.

That is, in effect, a commitment to keep its growth at least at the pace of inflation, which would in turn means at least flat line funding.

It is, of course, not enough and immediately the King’s Fund, the BMA and the Health Foundation pointed out that neither Labour nor the Conservatives have dealt with the sheer scale of the funding shortfall.

The BMA said:  “Daily, we’re seeing the effects of an NHS under extreme pressure – patients are having to wait longer to see their GP, A&E waiting times are the worst they’ve been in a decade and a winter crisis which has spilled over into spring, summer and autumn. Front-line staff are under extreme pressure, with unmanageable workloads often preventing them from being able to deliver the high quality care they want to for their patients.”

The King’s Fund said: “In the short term, more money is needed to support NHS organisations struggling as a result of the unprecedented pressures on their budgets meet the costs of essential changes to services.”

Read more: Labour’s health policy: eight months to fill in the blanks

And the Health Foundation reiterated that in 2015/16 alone the NHS will have a hole in its finances to the sum of £2bn, with a £30bn shortfall by 2020.

While there is a belief in some quarters that there is still room for efficiencies to be made, if you talk to NHS managers many will say they are just about at their limit. That they have sliced and diced as much as they dare.

The pressure, too, has been piled on by the need to meet the Francis challenge of hiring more staff, which adds significantly to costs.

Read more: is it time to start talking about the NHS?

However, all eyes will be focused on the next few months and the need to avert an A&E crisis. I can picture managers even as we speak looking nervously at their numbers (which have barely let up over the year) and even more nervously waiting for that dreaded phone call from the health secretary asking them what’s going on (it happened last winter).

The chances are that on top of the winter planning funding, the Treasury may be persuaded to cough up extra to avert too many poor patients lining up in ambulances outside hospitals (as they have been in Wales) and to avoid too many ghastly headlines.

But once the snow has cleared from the ground, and the daffodils start coming through, all parties will face some hard questions about how they are going to protect the NHS.

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