Health bosses call for 'greater realism' over NHS funding and staffing pressures
Public faith in the NHS will be “on the line” unless patients and taxpayers are told the true scale of the challenges it faces, health bosses have warned.
A new report says people deserve "honesty, realism and transparency" over what the health service can realisticaly deliver amid growing pressures over a lack if funding and rising demand.
The study, by NHS Providers - the membership organisation for acute hospitals, community, mental health and ambulance services - found that 91% of senior officials do not feel there has been enough public debate about the organisation's long-term future.
A majority of NHS trust leaders are concerned over the lack of investment in social care and public health in their local areas, and around two-thirds are not confident they have the correct numbers, quality and mix of staff to deliver high quality healthcare.
In addition, 72% of bosses were concerned their trusts could make the capital investment needed to maintain and modernise NHS equipment.
The warning comes as the NHS faces the worst performance levels in a decade, 100,000 staff vacancies and a £6 billion maintenance backlog.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “It is very striking that over 90% of trust leaders are worried that there hasn’t been the full, frank and open national conversation about the severe pressures facing the NHS and how much these constrain what it can deliver.
“It’s an uncomfortable debate to have. The Government wants to be seen as an effective steward of the NHS. NHS England and Improvement want to be seen to lead the service effectively. And frontline leaders want to provide outstanding care to every patient. But we need greater realism about how much the NHS can deliver, and how quickly, given where we currently are and the challenges we face.”
He added: “It’s great that the new government has made the NHS its top domestic priority. Trusts have welcomed increases in funding compared with other public services and the ambitious plan for the next decade.
“But the NHS faces a triple whammy of rapidly rising demand, severe workforce challenges and the need to recover from the longest and deepest funding squeeze in NHS history. Current performance levels are the worst in a decade and trying to work NHS staff harder and harder is simply not sustainable.
“Unless we level with the public about how long it will take to recover from where we are and how quickly we can deliver the NHS long term plan, public commitment to the NHS is on the line.
“NHS leaders are sending a clear signal that we need an honest, realistic and transparent view of the difficult choices and challenges – as well as the exciting opportunities – that lie ahead.”
The report, The State of the NHS Provider Sector, also called for a “funded, credible” workforce plan and a “proper” capital settlement and sustainable funding for social care and public health.
Responding to the report, Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s a damning indictment when NHS leaders running hospitals don’t feel their trusts are properly resourced with enough staff and investment to meet the huge demand they are facing and provide the safe care patients deserve.”
“It’s no surprise, when the Tories have spent nine years running down the NHS, imposing the tightest funding squeeze in history alongside swingeing cuts to public health services and social care slashed by £7 billion since 2010.
“Even the Prime Minister’s recent overspun claims of more funding and new hospitals quickly unravelled, showing you can’t trust the Tories with our NHS.
“As Johnson’s own top spin doctor admits, the Tories simply don’t care about our NHS.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are striving to build a more integrated and collaborative health service to better support patients nationwide – this is made possible by our historic commitment of £33.9bn extra taxpayers’ money in the NHS Long Term Plan – the largest and longest cash settlement in the history of the NHS.
“Our Interim NHS People Plan has set out immediate actions to reduce vacancies and secure the staff we need for the future. Prevention is at the heart of the Long Term Plan, alongside £3 billion we are giving to councils to fund public health services this year – as well as access to an additional £1.5bn for adult and children’s social care next year, while protecting their existing social care grants to meet rising demand.”