Responding to today’s budget statement, in which Chancellor George Osborne confirmed a real terms increase in NHS funding for 2015/16, the NHS Confederation is calling for an open and honest debate on NHS finances ahead of the general election in May.
The NHS Confederation, which represents more than 500 NHS organisations, also calls for greater public scrutiny of political plans for the NHS. This follows a decision by MPs on the Health Select Committee last week to abandon the publication of a report into NHS finances. Without more effort to address money in the NHS, the NHS Confederation believes politicians will lose credibility with a public crying out to be engaged on the big issues affecting the NHS in the coming election campaign.
Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
"An open public debate must happen now on NHS finances. We've been calling for it for a long time and politicians from all parties cannot duck it anymore - the public simply won't allow them.
"We know this year will be tough for the NHS and the budget confirms this. Years of punishing price cuts for providers such as hospitals are taking their toll on NHS care. There is a good chance the additional money in commissioners’ budgets might only just cover the increase in demand, and be insufficient to cover improvements.
"The outlook for the next five years looks even harder for the NHS. The Five Year Forward View sets ambitious efficiency savings that are above what the service has delivered in tough circumstances over the last five years. Even where political parties commit to the £8 billion of funding this requires, it’s a daunting task. What is clear is that these savings, worth £22 billion, won't be delivered through just price cuts. Instead, we will fundamentally need to change the delivery of care. This must be done in genuine partnership with the public and patients.
"The NHS is ready to make savings in the next parliament, building on the £19 billion they have delivered in the last parliament. This is a crucial reason why the NHS compares favourably to other health systems when it comes to efficiency, as the Commonwealth Fund study of international systems makes clear. We now need to give local areas the freedom and flexibility to make changes to how we deliver care.”
On social care funding:
"Social care is on its knees and the NHS is feeling the pain. Budgets have been cut and there are now 400,000 fewer people getting publicly funded social care help. Many will see health issues arise as a consequence adding to the pressure on NHS services and budgets. When experts predict a £4.3 billion black hole in social care budgets by 2020, alongside the £30 billion one in the NHS, it is of concern and raises questions about sustainability. All parties need to set out plans for how they would address this as a matter of urgency.
"The NHS cannot cut services – if someone turns up, we treat them. Over the last parliament, the number of patients being treated in hospital has gone up by 1.4 million people. The NHS may need to reduce services if it continues to face demand growth and resource pressures."
On mental health funding:
"It’s good to see continued movement on investment in mental health. This progress will need to be accelerated if we really are going to redress the imbalance in funding between mental and physical health services."