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NHS England warns of soaring waiting times and more service cuts next year

An NHS England board meeting yesterday confirmed fears that constitution waiting time standards “will not be fully funded and met next year”.

The news was met with defiance from health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said the government had found increased funding in the budget with the aim of hitting these standards.

Officials also discussed cutting some services, as the money the Treasury provided for the NHS in last week’s Autumn Budget was considerably below the £4bn NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said was necessary.

Board papers released at the beginning on the board meeting, said: “Our current forecast is that - without offsetting reductions in other areas of care - NHS constitution waiting-time standards, in the round, will not be fully funded and met next year”

Speaking at the King’s Fund’s conference yesterday, Hunt replied: “I would say very simply that the government is absolutely committed to NHS constitutional standards, that is why we found a significant increase for the NHS in the budget.

“Our absolute determination is to move back to hitting those standards.”

As part of the money-saving measures, NHS England ratified plans to stop prescribing cough mixture, cold treatments, eye drops and laxatives, which it says patients should buy over the counter instead.

This includes limitations on a range of “low-value treatments”, including fish oil, herbal remedies and homeopathy, as part of a plan to save up to £190m from prescribed medications £9bn prescribed medications bill.

Limiting Services

The NHS governing body also said it might have to refuse some treatments offered by NICE because of a lack of funding, saying innovative treatments should only be recommended for widespread NHS use if they come with an “agreed affordability and workforce assessment.”

During the budget, the government found a further £2.8bn for NHS funding, pushing the total investment to £6.3bn by 2022-23.

Chancellor Philip Hammond also committed to providing the funding to end the 1% pay cap for NHS staff, but details showed the money was tied to an increase in productivity.

Responding to yesterday’s board meeting, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s council, said the news was “deeply worrying” that the service might be unable to meet national standards.

“Unfortunately, it is patients who are unfairly suffering the consequences of a clearly underfunded service,” he continued. “Waiting time targets for hospital care haven’t been met for years and patients face growing delays to see their GP as general practice struggles to cope with demand.

“Doctors always want to deliver the best possible care for our patients, but we can’t continuously plug gaps by penny pinching and poaching from elsewhere in an overstretched service.

“Ministers must listen to the warnings of doctors, and to the NHS’ own leaders, and take urgent steps to put the NHS on a sustainable footing.”

The Patients Association’s, chief executive Rachel Power, also spoke of fears that patients would lose out on treatment because of “political decisions.”

She added: “We have now reached a point where the NHS Constitution will be routinely breached, and NHS services are being withdrawn.

“The confirmation that NHS England will consult on plans to restrict the availability on prescription of items that can be purchased over the counter is the latest example of its drive to cut spending – an exercise that will be difficult, and have complex consequences, including very probably for the relationship between GPs and their patients.

“NHS England should not have been placed in this impossible position by political decisions – its funding recommendations in the Five Year Forward View should have been implemented, but were not. Equally it should not be left to make decisions about which NHS services to withdraw by itself. Parliament and ministers must get a grip of this situation urgently.”

Top image: Stefan Rousseau PA Archive

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Jeanne Jackson   02/12/2017 at 07:54

I'm am fed up with the duplicity between Hunt, Stevens and recently Hammond. This amateur psychobabble they use between each other. 'You say this, we'll say that' 'I'll withhold the funding' 'I'll blame it on you' 'I'll act outraged' .... and the public fall for it......and by the next election the mandate is accomplished!

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