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17.09.14

NHS needs ‘sustainable’ funding from next government – King’s Fund

The next government must plan to fund the NHS sustainably and not cut services, otherwise patients may face a deteriorating quality of care, the King’s Fund says. 

In its document – Priorities for the next government – the independent think tank has outlined four main objectives to be tackled by the victor of the next general election: meeting the financial challenge, transforming services for patients, improving the quality of care, and a new approach to NHS reform. 

It was stated that NHS is going through the biggest financial squeeze in its history, and since 2010 its budget has effectively been frozen, increasing by just enough to cover inflation. 

The King’s Fund argues that unless significant additional funding is found, patients will bear the cost as staff numbers are cut, waiting times rise and quality of care deteriorates. 

It has been recommended that the next government should establish a ring-fenced health and social care transformation fund to be used to develop new community-based services and to cover double-running costs during the transition between old and new models of care. 

Professor Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said: “The general election will come at a pivotal time for health and social care. An unprecedented funding squeeze has left the NHS on the brink of financial crisis, while reductions in local government funding have led to significant cuts in social care services. 

“It is essential that politicians are honest with the public about the scale of these challenges. The stakes are high – without a clear mandate for change, the next government may find itself helpless to address them.” 

To deliver integrated care at scale and pace, the King’s Fund believes the next government should focus on removing the barriers to its implementation. For instance, this should include addressing the fragmentation of commissioning, tackling ‘perverse’ financial incentives in the way that services are paid for, and ensuring the application of competition policy does not hinder collaboration between services. 

Additionally, the King’s Fund wants the next government to develop a new type of contract for GPs to enable federations of practices to take on the responsibility for delivering more services to larger numbers of patients. “This would offer an opportunity for GPs to lead the development of local services and bring more money into their practices,” the report suggested. 

On top of this, there has been a call for politicians to help local leaders ensure that transparency and accountability are the norm in the NHS – following the failures identified by the Francis report. However, it was noted that this will “be a long haul”. The King’s Fund also wants to see a move away from ministers mandating change from above, with the next government promoting reform ‘from within’ based on devolution and transparency. 

Prof Ham added: “As we set out in our election tracker, all the main parties are committed to eliminating the budget deficit during the next parliament, leaving themselves little room for manoeuvre in finding the extra funding we are calling for. But hard choices cannot be avoided if highly valued public services are to be put on a sustainable footing.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@nationalhealthexecutive.com

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