latest health care news

03.08.16

RCP warns of patient safety risk with NHS ‘slash-and-burn savings tactics’

A new programme of strict financial controls on NHS providers could put patient safety at risk, the deputy head of strategy and policy at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has said.

In a blog post, Alex Callaghan wrote: “The regulatory regime must balance oversight of financial discipline and consequences for poor performance with equally vociferous protection for the fundamental components of safe patient care.”

The measures, announced by NHS England and NHS Improvement last month, include new financial and performance targets for trusts and CCGs, with penalties for failing to meet them.

It comes at a time of unprecedented financial pressure for the NHS, with a recent Health Committee report warning that it is not on track to address its £22bn deficit by 2020.

Callaghan added: “It is deeply concerning that the current emphasis from NHS Improvement on reducing the pay bill could have significant consequences, both intended and unintended, on the medical workforce and the wider staff team.

“Special measures regimes raise an additional risk to doctor staffing levels, by deepening damage to morale and by increasing difficulties in recruitment and retention within organisations that are frequently already struggling to ensure adequate numbers of doctors.”

She said that trusts are already struggling to fill gaps in rotas because of the shortage of NHS staff and that the new financial measures could make this worse.

Callaghan added that the serious care failings at the now-dissolved Mid Staffordshire trust were “a warning of the consequences of cost-cutting taking precedence over safe patient care”.

In addition, Callaghan said that RCP is concerned that the financial measures are short-term “slash-and-burn savings tactics”.

She warned that similar measures in the past have left the NHS needing “years of reinvestment” to restore staffing and services at the level required to address patient need.

Callaghan noted that a whole-system approach to health, including promoting health and wellbeing in order to reduce the demand on services, is the only way to balance NHS finances.

She accused the government of paying “lip service” to this idea, saying that much more funding is being directed towards reducing the deficit than to Sustainability and Transformation Fund allocations.

A recent joint report from the NHS Confederation, Local Government Association (LGA), Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and NHS Clinical Commissioners warned that integrated care is at risk because of funding shortfalls.

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