The King's Fund has called for an additional £2 billion in funding for the NHS ahead of next week's Autumn Statement.
In a briefing published before the Chancellor makes his annual statement to parliament, the think tank argues that the settlement agreed for the NHS in 2015/16 should be re-opened to prevent a financial crisis. Unless this money is found, it says patients will bear the cost as staff numbers are cut, waiting times rise and quality of care deteriorates.
Figures published in the last few days show that, halfway through the year, provider trusts are in deficit by £630 million, significantly worse than at the end of the first quarter. At the same time, NHS performance is beginning to slip, with A&E waiting times at their highest levels at this time of year for a decade and target waits for hospital treatment, diagnostic tests and cancer treatment being breached on a regular basis.
Chris Ham, Chief Executive of The King's Fund said: 'There is scope to improve productivity in the NHS, but this will not be enough to respond to unprecedented pressures on budgets and meet rising demand for services. Recent pledges from the main political parties to increase funding are welcome but it is clear that none of them have yet addressed the scale or the urgency of the financial challenge facing the NHS. With deficit reduction still a high priority, finding an additional £2 billion in the Autumn Statement is a very big ask. However, unless more money is found, a financial crisis is inevitable next year and patients will bear the cost as waiting times rise and quality of care deteriorates.
With an unprecedented number of hospitals reporting deficits, the think tank suggests it will be touch and go whether the Department of Health will be able to balance its books this year. But with the NHS set to receive a real-terms increase in its budget of just 0.2% in 2015/16, significant amounts of NHS funding due to be deployed through the Better Care Fund and service pressures continuing to build, it says a financial crisis is inevitable next year.
The NHS faces huge pressures as a result of an unprecedented funding squeeze, rising demand for services and the need to safeguard quality of care following the Francis report into the tragic events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. In addition to the challenges facing hospitals, the briefing highlights pressures on general practice and mental health services, with evidence suggesting that increasing numbers of vulnerable patients with mental health problems are being admitted to hospital, held in police cells and sent a long way from their local area for treatment.
The briefing also calls for a new transformation fund to be established early in the next parliament to pay for the development of new community-based services and help meet the costs of the transition from old to new models of care. Looking further ahead, even under the most optimistic scenario outlined in the recent NHS five year forward view, an additional £8 billion a year in funding will be needed by 2020, more than any of the political parties have so far pledged to find.