Revelations that half of NHS areas are planning to cancel or delay spending because of financial pressures should be a “wake-up call” to politicians before the election, according to a nurse leader.
The warning from Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, comes in response to the King’s Fund quarterly monitoring report on NHS finances.
“Every party must commit to the hard cash the NHS needs”
The think-tank’s report, published today, revealed that 50% of clinical commissioning group finance leads think that achieving this year’s forecast is likely to depend on delaying or cancelling spending.
Over 40% said they planned to review or reduce the level of planned treatment they commission following the recent downgrading of the 18-week referral to treatment target.
Just under half of CCGs were also uncertain or concerned about their ability to increase funding for mental health services in line with the national commitments.
But the survey of finance directors also suggested NHS finances improved over the last quarter of 2016-17, with 54% expecting to have ended the year in surplus.
“Local NHS leaders will be forced to make tough decisions about priorities”
While progress had been made on reducing agency spending, the report suggested the underlying financial position remained “gloomy”, with many trusts relying on one off actions, such as land sales, to improve their position.
This financial year promises to be another difficult one for the NHS, warned the King’s Fund.
However, it noted that the final quarter of 2016-17 saw a sharp improvement in accident and emergency performance, with 90% of patients admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.
Richard Murray, director of policy for the King’s Fund, said: “Given the enormous pressures experienced in January, the improvement in A&E performance in February and March is a tribute to successful planning and the hard work of NHS staff during a difficult winter.”
But he added: “The high levels of concern about the year ahead suggest that NHS providers are again likely to run up a significant deficit in 2017-18, a year when the sector is supposed to be in balance.
Pay rise above 1% ‘needed to ease nurse crisis’
“With many CCGs planning to delay or cancel spending, local NHS leaders will be forced to make tough decisions about priorities and this is likely to have a direct impact on what care patients can access and how long they have to wait for it,” he said.
“This reinforces the underlying reality that demand for services is continuing to outstrip the rate at which the NHS budget is growing,” noted Mr Murray.
In response to the report, the RCN leader said: “It has been a political decision not to give the NHS the money it needs in recent years and it goes some way to explaining the 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in the NHS in England.
“In the final seven days before people head to the polls, every party must commit to the hard cash the NHS needs for treatment and safe staffing,” said Ms Davies.