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22.10.15

Social care budget cuts bringing NHS services to breaking point – think tank

Cuts to social care budgets are adversely affecting health services, according to 88% of NHS trust finance directors and 80% of CCG finance leads, the King’s Fund has found.

The think tank’s latest quarterly monitoring report analyses NHS performance data to find that more than 5,000 patients experienced discharge delays from hospital at the end of August. This was the highest level at that time of year since 2007.

Further analysis revealed that nearly one-third of these delays were caused by problems in accessing social care services, marking an increase of 21% in the past year.

The Fund therefore called on the government to protect the social care sector from further budget cuts, as well as reinvest the £6bn previously earmarked to implement the Dilnot reforms.

The survey, carried out in September, also served to confirm that the NHS is now in serious financial crisis, given that it amalgamated data from two months after the period covered by recent reports from healthcare regulators.

It found that almost two-thirds of trust finance directors and 88% of acute trusts are forecasting a deficit at the end of the financial year. These forecasts include additional in-year financial support for 75% of finance directors in NHS trusts.

More than a quarter of finance directors also say that capped agency spending will also affect their ability to ensure safe staffing levels.

And directors continued to place staff morale at the top of their list of concerns.

John Appleby, the think tank’s chief economist, said: “The quarterly monitoring report reveals the financial crisis engulfing the NHS and social care.

“With winter approaching, the NHS faces a toxic mix of widespread deficits, rising waiting times and low morale.

“There is now clear evidence that cuts to social care budgets are affecting the NHS, as well as reducing services for people that need them.”

The Fund also noted that the most up-to-date figures on performance show that almost 6% of patients spent more than four hours in A&E in August – the first time the target has been missed in this month since recording began in 2010.

The proportion of patients still waiting for treatment after 18 weeks – the main target measure for elective surgery waits – also rose to more than 7% in the same month. This was just within the 8% target.

And the proportion of patients receiving cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral fell to an all-time low of 82% in the first quarter of 2015-16 – significantly below the 85% target and the lowest since the target was implemented in 2009.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Ian Wilson, BMA representative body chair, said: “Coming just days after the news that NHS trusts in England have accumulated a £930m deficit in the first three months of the financial year, today’s warning is cause for serious concern. The NHS is facing a funding crisis the likes of which we have never seen, and despite politicians’ promises, current funding is barely enough for the health service to stand still.

“With winter just around the corner, which will undoubtedly increase pressures on services and staff, it is also deeply worrying that trust finance directors continue to raise concerns over staff morale. The government must wake up and take action. 

“The evidence couldn’t be clearer. The NHS needs a long-term funding plan rather than short-term fixes in order the secure the future of the NHS and stop it from lurching from one crisis to another.”

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