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NHS England CEO calls on Government to provide additional NHS funding in the Budget

The NHS England CEO Simon Stevens has directly challenged the Government to increase funding for the NHS, or legally abolish patients’ waiting time entitlements as they’re undeliverable.

In a highly provocative speech, Stevens said: “The NHS budget for next year is well short of what is needed to look after patients at time of greatest need. The NHS can no longer afford everything that is required of it.”

Stevens said that the waiting lists for hospital operations could hit 5 million, and that spending on the NHS is expected to “nosedive” over the next two years.

He called on Brexiteers to make good on their promises to give the NHS extra funding available due to withdrawal from Europe.

During the referendum it was claimed £350m a week was sent to the EU and that would be better spent on the NHS. And many believed it was highly influential in how people voted.

The speech by Mr Stevens at the NHS Providers’ annual conference of health managers is highly political, coming just a fortnight before the Budget.

It comes as three think tanks warn that the NHS requires at least £4 billion more in the Budget to stop patient care deteriorating next year, think tanks are warning.

New analysis in a briefing from the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust shows that current spending plans fall well short of what the NHS needs based on an assessment of Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) projections and historic rates of funding growth.

Based on the government’s current spending plans, the analysis estimates there will be a funding gap of at least £20 billion by 2022/23.

The briefing underlines that 2018/19 will be a crunch year for the NHS, with funding per person projected to fall by 0.3 per cent.

With NHS funding growth falling to the lowest rate in this parliament and one of the lowest in NHS history, the three organisations say that the minimum requirements for the government to meet its manifesto commitments in the Budget are to:

  • Deliver on its pledge to increase NHS spending in real terms for every year of the parliament;
  • Make an immediate, substantial down-payment on its promise to increase NHS funding by £8 billion by the end of the parliament;
  • Ensure that any increase in pay for NHS staff is fully funded, rather than being met from within the existing NHS funding settlement;
  • Outline a plan for meeting its election commitment to provide an extra £10 billion in capital investment to carry out essential repairs and improve deteriorating facilities.

The organisations warn, however, that these actions would not be enough to close the estimated funding gap by 2022/23, despite NHS productivity improving at a faster rate than the wider economy.

Unless spending starts to rises to match the demands facing the service – an increase of at least £4 billion in 2018/19 – the three organisations warn that patients will wait longer for treatment, more services will be rationed and quality of care will deteriorate.

Reacting to the speech and research, Royal College of Surgeons’ President, Professor Derek Alderson, said: “NHS staff have worked exceptionally hard over the last decade to cut waiting times and ensure that the health service is run efficiently. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have seen some of this hard work undone as the system has struggled with increased demand.

“As Simon Steven’s notes, we cannot allow the NHS to descend into the disgracefully long waiting times of past decades.

“Funding for the NHS is no longer keeping up with the huge increase in demand for treatment. We are not only treating more people but also more types of illness and ever increasingly complex and long-term conditions. All this comes at a financial cost. Staff are doing the best they can with what they have been given. However, it has now reached the point that we are expecting them to perform miracles. The NHS needs more money.”

The think tanks warn that the social care system is on the brink of crisis, and the briefing argues that the need for reform remains as urgent as when the Prime Minister made the case for it during the election campaign.

New analysis estimates that the sector will face a funding gap of £2.5 billion by 2019/20, raising the prospect of thousands more older and disabled people being denied access to care.

It calls on the government to use the Budget to commit to fundamental reform and to publish costed funding options when it launches its forthcoming consultation on social care.

Chris Ham, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: “After seven years of austerity, the dramatic improvements made in health care over the last 20 years are at risk of slipping away. The message is clear – unless the government finds the money the NHS and social care need, patients, service-users and their families will suffer the consequences.”

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