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NHS reliance on ‘short-term measures’ has made it financially unstable, auditors report

Quick fixes are draining funding for long-term investment


The NHS is relying on ‘short-term measures’ to fix financial problems, including taking loans from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) it would likely never be able to pay back.

The findings come from a report made by the National Audit Office (NAO), which looked at the financial stability of the NHS.

It found that the NHS provider trusts had a combined deficit of £827m and clinical commissioning groups had a $150m deficit, in the financial year ending 31 March 2019.

While NAO found that the NHS is treating more patients than ever before, it reports that the health service has not yet achieved the ‘fundamental transformation’ necessary to meet the rising demands.

It highlighted the danger of the ‘short-term’ fixes that individual trusts have become reliant on to meet demands, with these measures ultimately not being sustainable.

“Trusts are becoming increasingly reliant on short-term measures, including one-off savings – rather than more permanent year-on-year savings – to meet yearly financial targets. Short-term fixes have made some parts of the NHS seriously financially unstable.”

The report also found that these sustained ‘quick fixes’ were draining resources for long-term areas of investment, including workforce/employment, pubic health and capital. For the NHS Long Term Plan to be successful, the short-term and long-term needs of the NHS will need to be rebalanced.

“There is no long-term plan for social care in sight, but what is clear is the lack of investment in public health, equipment and buildings. It is the start of a new parliament and the Department of Health and Social Care needs to urgently get a grip and wisely use the new money it’s been given,” said Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee of the British House of Commons.

Over the past three years, NHS providers have reportedly requested an average of £1.1bn more of funding for buildings and equipment than is allowed in their spending limits. This contributed to a backlog of maintenance work of around £6.5bn, according to NAO.

For the last five years, the government has transferred £4.3bn from capital to revenue budgets "to cope with day to day pressures facing the NHS" which has contributed to that backlog.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson enshrined NHS funding in law upon his entry to Downing Street, following the Conservative majority win back in December.

In addition, the government has promised a “record cash boost for the NHS, worth £33.9bn extra a year by 2023/24”, said a DHSC spokesperson.

The government has also promised 6,000 extra doctors for GP surgeries, free hospital parking measures for some patients and staff and a cross-party deal to fix the current social care crisis.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

5th February 2020

From: Healthcare



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