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Government ‘in denial’ about state of NHS funding crisis, say doctors’ leaders

Effect ‘pernicious’ and permeating every part of UK

Caroline White

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The government is in denial about the state of the funding crisis facing the NHS, the head of the doctors’ union has said.

Addressing the BMA’s annual representative meeting (ARM) in Belfast, yesterday, Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, said that year-on-year funding cuts have left almost every acute trust in England in the red, with trusts facing a deficit of more than £2bn, a 20-fold increase in two years.

The UK spends less of a share of its wealth on healthcare than the EU average, and cuts of £200m to public health have affected many services locally, including sexual health and smoking cessation services.

A BMA public survey found that only a small minority (13%) of respondents believe the government is giving the NHS the money it needs and that three quarters were worried about public health funding.

Highlighting the pressure on NHS services, Dr Porter pointed out that there are more health ministers in England than there are major emergency departments that recently met the government’s four-hour waiting time target. And elective waiting lists are now at their highest for 10 years.

“The government is in denial. The chancellor says he has a ‘fully funded’ plan for the NHS. But while he announced £10bn of new money in November, our funding report showed the real increase in health spending is less than half that. As for the rest, for the largest part of the unmet need, the plan relies on what he laughably calls ‘efficiency savings,’” he said.

“We’ve seen those before. They are neither efficient nor are they savings. They are cuts,” he said.

The constant whittling away of funds was “pernicious” and permeated every part of the UK.

“You don’t make an organisation more efficient by paralysing its ability to invest, to adapt and to recruit. You don’t make hospitals better at caring for patients when they are forced to care more about their financial survival,” he insisted.

“The Francis report told hospitals that staff numbers should be based on safe care, not about meeting financial targets. We know what can happen when this advice is ignored,” he continued.

The government had been sneaky by promising not to cut health spending, but slashing £200 million from the public health budget, which is no longer controlled by the NHS, he suggested.

“We’ve looked into what that budget actually pays for. A successful smoking cessation service in the north-east is now under threat. In Brighton, the council says cuts to sexual health may lead to increased HIV prevalence. In Leicestershire, in Somerset, in east London, in Surrey and in Darlington, we have found similar stories. You can’t trade a public health policy for an e-cigarette and crossed fingers,” he said.

In a similar vein, nurses have highlighted the impact the cuts to public health are having on longstanding issues, such as food poverty and poor housing.

A survey of more than 10,000 nurses and healthcare assistants found that half of the respondents said the proportion of their patients needing care for preventable conditions has risen during the course of their career.

And nearly 40% have seen patients whose health has been affected by malnutrition or food poverty and 41% have seen patients with their health affected by inadequate or unsafe housing.

The RCN is concerned long-standing issues may be getting worse at the same time as funding is being cut and preventative work reduced.

RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary Janet Davies warned: “The major worry is that efforts to tackle the issues and to help people live healthier lives are in danger of going backwards because of aggressive public health funding cuts.

“It is time that real, consistent progress was made in tackling these issues to avoid the consequences of profound social problems in the years to come,” she said.

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