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NHS leaders bickering in public over funding has to stop, warn MPs

The Department of Health, NHS England and No. 10 have to stop bickering in public over funding levels and work together “in the best interests of patients”.

That’s the message from the Public Accounts Committee, in a report which is the latest in a series from the cross-party committee of MPs examining the growing pressure on health finances

It says that the NHS is facing huge challenges and a united effort is required to resolve these for the long term.

The Committee criticises “bickering in public” between Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, and PM Theresa May at a time when the financial performance of NHS bodies has worsened considerably – a trend which is not sustainable.

The Committee warns that central government is asking local bodies “to solve multiple problems and deliver a range of priorities” without a proper understanding of what can be achieved.

It concludes: “Transformation under such pressure is hard to achieve.”

The government has much more to do before the public can feel confident that local sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) are about delivering transformation and efficiencies “and not just a cover for cuts in services”, the Committee concludes.

Among its recommendations, the Committee says the Government should set out urgently a “clear and transparent recovery plan” targeting NHS bodies and health economies in severe financial difficulty.

NHS England and NHS Improvement must explain how they will support transformation in areas where STPs fall short and take action to “convince the public of the benefits of the plans to them”.

Government should also publish its assessment of whether there is the capacity in NHS bodies “to deliver everything they are expected to within the agreed timeframes”.

By July the Government should report back to the Committee on what it has done to understand the link between financial performance and the impact on patient care.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: “The NHS as we know it is under threat from growing and unsustainable financial pressures.

“Few trusts feel they have a credible plan for meeting the financial targets they have been set by Government.

“At the same time, the Government seems unable to get its own house in order—plundering NHS investment funds to plug holes elsewhere, and falling out in public over its longer-term strategy.

“Contradictory statements about funding from the Prime Minister and head of NHS England are an insult to taxpayers who deserve an honest, grown-up conversation about future finance and service provision. The Government’s rigid adherence to a set of stock lines about funding, in the face of mounting evidence its plan isn’t up to the job, is not it.”

The Committee’s evidence session began with the Head of NHS England speaking out against comments made in that day’s press by sources at No. 10, and suggesting that the NHS was being inadequately funded.

Hillier added: £It is inconceivable the Government would allow a catastrophic failure in the NHS and we expect it to take targeted action now to support NHS bodies facing severe financial problems.

“But let us be clear: this sticking-plaster approach is not sustainable, will not enable the NHS to get ahead of the problems it faces, and represents neither good value to taxpayers nor the best interests of patients.”

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