Experts warn of ‘challenging winter’ for the NHS as finance pressures bite

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A “CHALLENGING winter” is being forecast for the NHS in England.

A report today from The King’s Fund found widespread gloom about NHS budgets, with 91 per cent of finance directors saying they were “very” or “fairly pessimistic” about the financial state of the health and care in their area over the coming year – the highest level since the quarterly survey began in 2011. Almost half ranked low morale as their greatest cause for concern, followed by delays in patient transfers and hitting A&E waiting time targets. The report found “increasing workloads and a downward pressure on budgets” were contributing to a decline in morale and warned staff satisfaction would have an impact on care and productivity.

Richard Murray, of The King’s Fund, said: “Given the close association between staff engagement and quality of care, this is a warning sign that should be taken seriously by NHS leaders. The NHS relies on the dedication of its staff, so the growing concern about staff morale is worrying.”

The report, covering June to September, found one in 20 patients were spending four or more hours in A&E – the highest level at this time of year for a decade. It said waiting times reached their highest levels since 2008, with one in eight inpatients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment.

“Despite a reported £930m of additional Government funding to improve hospital waiting times and ease pressures in A&E, this points to a challenging winter ahead,” it said.

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