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“Not realistic to expect the NHS to deliver with rising demand and inadequate funding”

Reaction to the NHS Improvement’s quarterly performance report – for the three months ending 31 December – showing a high number of unfilled posts in the NHS and a growing financial deficit:

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

“NHS staff in England are doing a heroic job, but these figures reflect the intolerable pressure on a system which currently has a staggering 100,000 vacancies to fill.

“We have repeatedly pointed to severe underfunding in health and care and a year-to-date deficit in the English NHS of £1,281 million is just the latest evidence of this.

“Our members are at the end of their tether. It is simply not realistic or reasonable to expect the NHS to go on delivering a comprehensive universal service with inexorably rising demand and demonstrably inadequate funding.

“We have lurched from budget to budget with one futile bail out after another. We think there may be signs that some figures in government and opposition are listening – we hope so, because it is now time for the political class to wake up and tackle the long-term funding of both health and social care. Nothing less is acceptable.”

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said:

“Publishing figures on workforce vacancies is also a very positive step from the regulator. Sadly, they show no improvement in the dangerous shortage of nurses, and a worrying picture for doctors.

“Shortages of nurses damage patient care and make working life harder for those who remain, potentially driving them away too. We have warned that current policies are completely inadequate to the scale of the problem, and these figures confirm that we are stuck with more than one in ten posts left vacant.

“There is no sign of nursing applications increasing enough. A new language test and the prospect of a Brexit migration crackdown are turning away the European nurses who were stopping the problem spiralling out of control.

“These figures also show that 8% of posts for doctors are left vacant – a marked increase on the figure the NAO found in 2014. Particularly troubling is a 12% vacancy rate for doctors in mental health services. We have known about this problem for a long time, yet despite the stated priority given to mental health it does not seem to be getting any better.

“In some ways, the lack of crucial workers in the NHS is an even bigger problem than the lack of funding. We can sign a cheque and bring back more money onstream if the will is there, but there is no button to push which will suddenly bring us tens of thousands of qualified extra staff.”

Nuffield Trust Senior Policy Analyst Sally Gainsbury said:

“Despite very hard work in NHS trusts, these financial figures make grim reading. As we predicted at the start of this year, reported deficits are set to be in the region of a billion pounds this year. Even this figure disguises a real underlying deficit of close to £4bn which will roll on from year to year, after one-off sources of money are taken out.

“NHS Improvement have shown increasing transparency and openness in setting out more data on productivity. This should help us face up to the reality that the savings being demanded are just not realistic. Trusts have been asked to save 4% of their costs for the seventh year running, twice what the Government has been advised is possible. They are on course to make a remarkable £3.3bn in savings, but even this is not enough and relies on much more one-off savings than was planned.”

Richard Murray, Director of Policy for The King’s Fund, said:

“It is alarming that NHS providers now forecast a £931m deficit for this financial year, a deterioration of over £300 million in three months. This reflects the dramatic decline in the finances of a number of individual trusts, and raises serious questions about how reasonable the financial targets were in the first place.

“While NHS Improvement is right to point to increases in demand for services as the reason for the financial difficulties, these are not pressures that have sprung up in the last few months and show no sign of abating. Although the Treasury has provided more money to the Department of Health and Social Care, these pressures raise the risk it will breach its own budget.

“This underlines yet again that after the biggest funding squeeze in NHS history, the service does not have enough money or staff to do everything being asked of it.”


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