NHS finances are being ‘stretchedto the limit’ warns The King’s Fund.
What is more important for hospitals: to balance the books or maintain the quality of services? For the vast majority of people in the UK, that’s probably a no-brainer. We have what many people claim is the best health service in the world, and the very last place that the electorate wants the government to make cuts is, invariably, in the NHS budget.
However, in its latest report, the influential think tank The King’s Fund said that there are “huge pressures” on the health service’s purse strings after a quarter of finance directors at hospital trusts in England said they expect to overspend their budgets this year.
The report went on to say that there is “a distinct lack of optimism about the general state of the finances”, with 85 per cent of the 73 finance directors polled saying they were fairly or very pessimistic about money for the next year”.
Nevertheless, it seems that, despite “the difficult choice facing hospitals”, many were choosing to recruit more nurses despite budgets being stretched to the limit. Between last August and March this year, the number of nurses, midwives and health visitors employed by NHS England grew by nearly 9,000, boosting the nursing workforce to its highest level ever.
Despite this, according to John Appleby, The King’s Fund chief economist, “cracks are beginning to appear” in performance as a result of the growing financial pressures. The report stated that a number of waiting time targets have been missed and the number of people on waiting lists for treatment in hospital is now at its highest level for six years.
The report welcomed the commitment to improving care, but warned that it remains to be seen whether hospitals “will be able to sustain current staffing levels when money becomes tighter later in the year”.
Medical negligence solicitors are, sadly, all too familiar with scenarios where mistakes are made by health professionals under undue pressure, and in that respect this report makes uneasy reading.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Pessimistic predictions of this type are nothing new, but we know that the NHS remains stable.
“Some parts of the system are under pressure due to an unprecedented rise in demand, which is why we have taken tough decisions to increase the NHS budget by £12.7bn over this parliament and are ensuring the NHS is sustainable in the long term.”