Health leaders need more funding or else the winter plan and the prime minister’s waiting lists target are in jeopardy, according to the NHS Confederation.
The call for further investment comes as NHS leaders in England report being put in an impossible position amid a range of rising financial pressures, including the ongoing industrial action, higher drug prices and continuing healthcare costs.
The strikes in England alone have already cost the NHS approximately £1.4bn, for example.
Without fast reassurance and reinforcement, health leaders fear tough choices on which services to cut will have to be made – this could include restrictions on the number of extra beds provided in line with the NHS’s winter plan.
The plan dictates that an additional 5,000 beds are made available ahead of the busiest time of the year for the health service, but this is at risk unless swift action is taken.
“Every day that passes without clarity on this issue results in more uncertainty and tough decisions having to be made.”
Rishi Sunak’s target of reducing the size of the backlog by March 2024 is also highly likely to be missed, based on current trends – when the prime minister made his pledge at the start of this year, the waiting list sat at 7.2 million, it is now closer to 7.75 million and increasing by around 100,000 per month.
“Everyone from the health secretary to the chief executive of the smallest trust knows that the government needs to make an urgent decision on whether to cover the unplanned costs of strike action and other higher costs,” said Matthew Taylor, the NHS Confederation’s chief executive.
He added: “The irony is that while NHS leaders share the health secretary’s ambitions to increase productivity in the health service, the strikes are acting as a handbrake on these ambitions as NHS staff are having to spend too much time cancelling and rearranging operations and outpatient appointments.”
England's troubles are shared across the devolved administrations too, with NHS Wales set for a deficit of £650m – Northern Ireland’s shortfall is estimated to be around £550m.
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