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Fund NHS standards or change them, warn NHS Providers

Current NHS pressures a 'watershed moment' for decision on long-term health and social funding

Louise Prime

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The government must make urgent decisions on the long-term funding of health and social care to enable the NHS to meet the standards of care enshrined in its constitution, or change those standards – as it is impossible to sustainably deliver them within current funding, NHS Providers warned this morning. The organisation said pressures being experienced by front-line health and care services this winter “are a watershed moment for the NHS”.

It said it is now impossible to meet the standards set out in the NHS constitution alongside fully recovering performance targets, consistently maintaining high-quality patient care, investing in the NHS’s capital requirements, and joining up services to deliver 21st century care. It argued that urgent decisions on long-term funding for health and social care, to allow the NHS to sustainably deliver all that is required of it under its constitutional standards, must be put in place no later than the November Budget – or there is a risk of further deterioration in performance.

In its public letter to Jeremy Hunt, NHS Providers said that November’s Budget gave NHS England more than anticipated for 2018-19, but insufficient to deliver all that’s expected of it. It told the health and social care secretary that the government must set out a clear process and timeline, within the next 6-8 weeks, on how it will make the decisions he has said are required, and how this would relate to Budget 2018.

NHS Providers is also calling for a full review of how well the NHS handled this winter, looking at: adequacy of bed numbers and staffing levels; efficacy of the new national planning approach; adequacy, timing and allocation of extra winter funding; system resilience; process and impact of cancelled elective operations; and the role and availability of primary care and social care, and their involvement in winter planning.

NHS Providers said that despite the NHS planning for winter more thoroughly and extensively than before, this still hasn’t been sufficient as rising numbers of flu cases and more respiratory illness have placed ‘intolerable pressures’ on staff. Its chief executive Chris Hopson said: “If we continue to run the NHS at close to 100% capacity, day in day out, permanently in the red zone, it’s not surprising that the service can’t cope when we get a high, but entirely predictable, spike in demand.”

He warned that the NHS is no longer able to deliver the constitutional standards to which it is committed, and called for realism about what it can provide on the funding available. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: “We think the time has now come to have the debate as a nation about whether we want to preserve the existing standards that are enshrined in the NHS Constitution.… For the first time ever in NHS history last year, all of the key targets were missed.”

He went on: “We have reached a watershed moment where either we fund the NHS to the extent that is needed to meet those standards, or – and this is absolutely not what we want – we abandon those standards.… We are now at the point where we cannot deliver the NHS constitutional standards without a long-term funding settlement.”

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