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04.04.19

Extent of NHS’s declining financial health and staffing crisis being masked, MPs warn

Staffing shortages represent “the biggest threat” to financial stability in the NHS and to delivering the Long-Term Plan, as MPs warn that the health service is on course to “rapidly reach crisis point.”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said there is a “worrying level of disparity in financial health and patient experience at a local level,” stating that the NHS’s financial health is getting worse amongst increasing deficits and growing waiting times.

The MPs said throughout their examination of NHS sustainability the “voices from the frontline came through loud and clear” that staffing is the biggest challenge the health service faces, presenting a “major obstacle” to financial viability.

The report accuses the government of “painting an overly positive picture” of the state of the NHS, and whilst the NHS did balance its overall budget in 2017-18, it said the top-level picture masks warning signs that the NHS’s finances are getting worse.

Increasing loans to support struggling trusts, raids on capital budgets to cover shortfalls, and growing waiting lists “do not indicate a sustainable position.”

Staffing shortages remain the main concern, with the NHS currently holding around 100,000 vacancies and the MPs warned that unless this is addressed, the NHS will not deliver against the Long-Term Plan.

The report states that if the NHS continues to lose staff at its current rate, or fails to attract enough employees from overseas, then “the situation will rapidly reach crisis point.”

The MPs also highlight a lack of clarity on funding for adult social care, capital, public health, and education, which also represents “significant risk” to the delivery of the NHS Long-Term Plan.

Whilst the report recognises that the plan presents an opportunity to bring back stability to the health system, it says that the NHS’s national bodies and the government “underestimates” the challenges it faces.

The chair of the committee, Meg Hillier, said: “Staff shortages are a clear threat to the delivery of the NHS Long-Term Plan and by July we expect to see evidence that government has a plan to address them.

“We remain concerned about the absence of new funding for vital areas of work. Investment in capital, adult social care, prevention initiatives and training will be critical.

“If taxpayers are to be convinced that future government funding commitments are fit for purpose, then government must explain how those commitments relate to healthcare priorities locally.”

Image credit - Dominic LipinskiPA WirePA Images

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