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Finance crisis sparks doubts over seven-day NHS

Regulators order recruitment freeze and say trust finance plans ‘unaffordable’

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 04 August 2015

The BMA has re-iterated concerns about the viability of plans for NHS seven-day services as hospitals are ordered to cut back on all but the most essential recruitment and revise their current financial plans which regulators describe as "unaffordable".

Today the trust regulator Monitor has written to the 46 NHS Foundation Trusts with the biggest deficits questioning their financial plans.

In response, Dr Mark Porter, the BMA council chair, said doctors have been explicit in their support for more seven-day hospital services. "But despite repeated calls, the government's refusal to say how they will fund and staff them means that we and the public are no closer to finding out the detail.

“Monitor's warning of the huge financial challenge facing the NHS and their call for another recruitment freeze highlights once more the urgent need for answers. It is simply wrong to expect doctors, nurses and other NHS staff already delivering weekend care to deliver more without the extra resource urgently needed.

“We already know that two-thirds of the public don’t think the NHS can afford seven-day services. Today's news will do nothing to alleviate their or doctors' concerns.

“If Trusts are to face an even greater squeeze on funding and staff then the only way to increase consultant presence across seven days is to reduce the number of senior doctors providing elective care during the week. If this is what the government aims to do as part of making the NHS a ‘truly seven-day service’ then it should be honest with patients and doctors and say so.”

Monitor chief executive David Bennett said the NHS was facing an almost unprecedented financial challenge this year. "We are already reviewing and challenging the plans of the 46 foundation trusts with the biggest deficits," he wrote in a letter to the trusts.

"However, it is clear that this process will not close the funding gap and so we need all providers - even those planning for a surplus this year - to look again at their plans to see what more can be done."

He urged trusts to leave non-essential vacancies unfilled, and to follow guidelines on safe staffing in a way which was "proportionate and appropriate".

Rosters should be rigorously managed to deploy staff efficiently across all required shifts, including evenings and weekends, he said. Meanwhile, NHS England will order local commissioners to ease pressure on hospitals by suspending all fines and penalties relating to waiting times.

The Department of Health said it was investing £8bn into the NHS in England so that it could implement a five-year plan, and it was vital that "every penny possible" was spent on patient care.

"We support this move by NHS regulators, on top of the package of financial controls announced earlier in the year, to ensure the service lives within its means without compromising standards," a spokesman said.

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