NHS at ‘tipping point’ as cash crisis looms

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The NHS could plunge into financial crisis ahead of the general election, experts warn today.

The Nuffield Trust health think-tank said the health service was coming under “severe financial pressure”.

In a report Into the Red? it finds the financial strength of NHS trusts is “weak and declining”, with an increasing number in deficit even with hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding.

In Yorkshire, five of the 15 hospital trusts serving the region ended the financial year in March in deficit. Early concerns have already been raised by nine of the 12 elite foundation hospital trusts in Yorkshire about the coming year as growing demand for care, coupled with national pressures to enhance safety with extra staff, clash with a drive to make hundreds of millions of pounds in savings.

The Nuffield Trust said it found a net overall deficit of more than £100m among trusts in 2013-14 compared with a surplus of £383m the previous year. A total of 66 trusts in England were in deficit - up 50 per cent.

The NHS had been through a period of “unprecedented” financial challenge and was now “increasingly poorly placed” to manage the impact of austerity, concluding finances would deteriorate further, it said.

Meanwhile, more than 100 health leaders have raised concerns about the future sustainability of the health and social care.

Two-thirds of those polled by the Nuffield Trust said they felt NHS providers would have to go into deficit to provide a high-quality service. Half said they believed the NHS would no longer be free at the point of use in a decade.

Report co-author Andy McKeon said: “The NHS has risen to the challenge of living within its means over the past three years. But it has now reached a tipping point. Our analysis shows just how poorly placed it is to cope with the squeeze still to come.

“With hospital finances increasingly weak, growing pressures on staffing, and the goal of moving care out of hospitals and into the community proving elusive, the NHS is heading for a funding crisis this year or next.”

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Everywhere you look, there are signs of an NHS now heading rapidly in the wrong direction. It is not just standards of patient care that are getting worse but NHS finances are in a dire state.

“David Cameron needs to take urgent action to stabilise the deteriorating situation in the NHS. Patients seeing waiting times getting longer will fear much worse will be in store next year.”

British Medical Association chairman Mark Porter said the NHS was “buckling under the pressure of rising patient demand and stagnating resources”.

“Every part of our health service is suffering, from understaffed, overworked hospitals to GP practices that are being overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients coming through the surgery door. It is clear that many problems in the NHS are coming to a head,” he said.

Health Minister Lord Howe said: “These predictions are pessimistic and paint an unrealistic picture of how our NHS is working. We know some parts of the NHS are under pressure due to an unprecedented rise in demand - which is why in very tight economic circumstances, we have taken tough decisions to increase the NHS budget by £12.7 billion over this Parliament.”