Efforts to improve standards of patient care in the NHS are being undermined by performance measures that encourage the manipulation of data, a report claims.
Mounting deficits, worsening performance and falling staff morale are hitting the health service, according to thinktank the King’s Fund latest quarterly review.
The scale of the debt problems means that extra cash promised by the main parties during General Election campaigning has already been spent amid concerns growing demand for care and difficulties making further efficiencies will exacerbate problems in the year ahead.
In a survey by the thinktank, 60 per cent of trust finance directors said they were dependent on additional financial support or had used reserves in the last year, with two thirds worried about balancing the books in the coming year.
Its director of policy Richard Murray said while many found last year difficult, the coming 12 months looked even worse.
“The health service enters the new financial year facing some of the biggest financial and performance challenges in its recent history,” he said. “If last year was the most difficult for some time, this year promises to be much worse, with little confidence that the alarming deterioration in NHS finances can be arrested.
“Looking further ahead, while there is still significant scope to improve productivity in the NHS, efficiencies are becoming harder to generate and there is considerable scepticism that the £22 billion in productivity improvements outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View can be achieved.”
Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: “The entire NHS is under unprecedented pressure from a difficult financial climate and rising demand that is leaving patient services overstretched. Despite this situation, politicians are continuing to make outlandish and unachievable election pledges about new or extended services that are often uncosted and fail to take into account the crisis facing current NHS services.”
The thinktank’s report said waiting times for A&E are at their worst level since 2003. Figures have already revealed the most long waiters in England during 2014-15 were at the Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust.
The number of delayed transfers of care - where patients are ready to return home or transfer to another form of care but still occupy a bed - has also risen by more than 20 per cent compared to the same quarter last year, with the figure now at its highest level since 2008.
It said it now seems certain that hospitals and other NHS providers in England overspent their budgets in 2014-15 by more than £800 million - despite nearly £900m being provided by the Treasury or switched from capital budgets to plug the growing blackhole.
“The financial outlook for 2015-16 is even gloomier, with two-thirds of hospitals concerned about staying within budget over the next year,” the report added.
Other key findings were that for the third consecutive quarter, staff morale topped the list of concerns raised by trust finance directors.