Political promises of extra cash for the NHS are insufficient to address a funding crisis that is putting at risk the founding principles of the health service, an influential coalition of doctors, nurses and medical charities has warned.
The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all made protecting health funding a priority in their party conference pitches to voters as the issue takes centre stage ahead of May’s general election.
But in an open letter to the three parties published in the Independent newspaper, the leaders of the organisations said “the longest, and most damaging budget squeeze” in NHS history had left it at “breaking point”, with patients increasingly feeling the effects.
“Too many staff feel undervalued and demoralised when all they want is to be able to care for patients”
Health spending has been protected from the austerity cuts imposed across most of Whitehall, but had not risen sufficiently to prevent the NHS “buckling under the twin crises of rising demand and flatlining budgets”, they wrote.
The letter was signed by the heads of the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs and four other royal colleges, plus the Faculty of Public Health.
It was also signed by charities including the Alzheimer’s Society, the Anthony Nolan Trust, the MS Society, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Teenage Cancer Trust, and the Family Doctor Association.
They cautioned: “Savings have been made, and despite the best efforts of nurses, doctors and other staff, patients have not been insulated from these cuts. Too many staff feel undervalued and demoralised when all they want is to be able to care for patients.
“A shortage of GPs means that patients are struggling to get an appointment to see their doctor,” the letter states. “Pressures on maternity services mean that many women are not getting the high quality care they deserve,” they add.
Accident and emergency unit targets were being missed – in some cases for an entire year – patients faced “unacceptable” waits for cancer diagnoses, and patients requiring emergency mental health support were being moved to hospitals hundreds of miles away from home.
“The NHS and our social care services are at breaking point and things cannot go on like this”
Social care shortfalls meant dementia sufferers “have been cut adrift, reliant on unpaid and unsupported carers to live from day to day” and problems were being stored up for the future by a failure to invest properly in children and young people’s physical and mental health, they suggested in the letter.
“The NHS and our social care services are at breaking point and things cannot go on like this. An NHS deficit of £30bn is predicted by 2020 – a funding black hole that must be filled,” they wrote.
“While we welcome the fact that the NHS has risen to the top of the political agenda, and some new spending commitments have been made, we need a comprehensive, fully costed, long-term spending plan if an NHS true to its founding principles of universal healthcare, provided according to need not ability to pay, is secured for future generations,” they add.