Patients in peril as NHS future funding finalised

Warning that millions of patients risk being condemned to further pain and delays if the government fails to recognise full impact pandemic on NHS.

The two organisations representing the NHS frontline – NHS Confederation and NHS Providers – today warn that millions of patients risk being condemned to further pain and delays for their treatment if the government fails to recognise the full scale of the unprecedented impact covid-19 has had on the NHS.

Their stark warning comes as the Government finalises future NHS funding as part of the spending review. Media reports suggest decisions could come as early as next week, as parliament returns from its summer break.

The warning accompanies a new report from the two organisations, A reckoning: the continuing cost of COVID-19, setting out the full scale of the extra running costs now needed by the NHS in England. Next financial year the frontline NHS will need around an extra £10 billon of revenue funding.

  • Between £4 and £5 billion to cover extra costs driven by covid-19, estimated in the new report as £4.6bn.
  • Between £3.5 and £4.5 bn to recover the care backlogs created by covid-19 across elective surgery, cancer, mental health and community services. This amount will be needed for each of the next three financial years.
  • Recognition that, over the last 18 months, trusts have not been able to make the annual 1.1% efficiency savings assumed in the existing NHS five-year budget given their overwhelming focus on treating covid patients and that returning to this level of savings will take time.

person wearing blue knit cap and white face mask

This is in addition to the costs of delivering the Government’s key manifesto commitments of building 40 new hospitals and reforming our overstretched social care system as well as meeting the ongoing central Government bill for covid-19 activities like Test and Trace and covid vaccination.

The report quantifies the extra recurring costs that frontline NHS trusts will be forced to meet to deal with covid-19 and treat the extra new patients covid has created in areas like long covid and mental health.

The report is based on an extensive survey of England’s 213 hospital, mental health, community and ambulance trusts, which spend nearly two-thirds of the NHS budget. It lists 15 areas where, to provide pre-covid levels of treatment and meet the extra demand covid-19 has created, NHS trusts will have to spend an estimated extra £4.6bn each year, compared to the existing NHS five-year budget set in June 2018.

These new extra costs include the need for trusts to have strict infection prevention and control measures in place, including personal protective equipment; rising demand from sicker patients; and from the cost of hiring temporary NHS staff to cover those who are unable to work due to sickness and self-isolation.  

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers said: ‘The NHS has consistently demonstrated that, when it is properly funded, it delivers for patients and the nation as a whole. In the early 2000s, for example, with five consecutive years of significant, real terms funding increases, the NHS cut waiting lists at record speed.

‘Trust leaders have strongly welcomed the extra covid funding the Government has provided. This meant that, in the January covid peak, the NHS massively increased critical care capacity at the drop of a hat to cope with 34,000 hospitalised covid patients. And, over the last nine months, the NHS has delivered a world class vaccination campaign which has been key to coming out of lockdown.

‘Covid-19 is a once in a generation, global, shock, the seismic impact of which is unlike anything the service has experienced in its 73-year history. The Government has said that we must learn to ‘live with covid’. That means they must fully recognise the extent, length and cost of the impact of covid-19 on the NHS.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: ‘NHS frontline funding for 2022/23 needs to rise by around £10 billion in addition to capital, social care and central Government covid costs.

‘Given the challenges facing the wider economy and society, greater NHS investment means a greater contribution to the levelling up agenda, increasing employment and skills and helping create a globally competitive life sciences industry, which are more important than ever right now.

‘Trust leaders are worried that anything short of £10 billion next year will force them to cut services. They are worried that, despite best efforts at the frontline, the 13m waiting list they are desperate to avoid will become inevitable. And this backlog will take five to seven, not two to three, years to clear.

‘They worry they won’t be able to provide prompt, high quality, safe care to all who need it as the pressure we have seen in ambulance trusts and A&E departments this summer will worsen and become more widespread across more of the year.

‘They worry that all the advances made on mental health over the last decade could go into reverse. And they worry that all the planned improvements in the NHS Long Term Plan in areas like cancer and cardiac care set will be put at risk.’

Speaking together, Chris and Matthew added: ‘Health outcomes for millions of patients over the next three years are dependent on this crucial decision. Patients genuinely are at peril.

‘The Government has to demonstrate that the NHS is safe in its hands. Frontline NHS leaders cannot stand idly by if they are forced to cut services, putting patients at risk.’

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