HALF of top NHS bosses are warning worsening financial pressures have hit services in the past year amid predictions of worse to come, a survey finds today.
The NHS Confederation poll of chief executives and chairmen at health trusts across the country also found 93 per cent saying only slight or no progress was being made in integrating hospital and community care – with most claiming that without it services would become unsustainable.
The findings have prompted renewed warnings from confederation chief executive Mike Farrar over the future of the health service.
He said “sticking plasters on creaking parts of the NHS will only last so long” as he called on NHS leaders to “take up the gauntlet” and implement urgently-needed service changes.
More than 1,500 delegates will attend the confederation’s annual conference in Liverpool beginning on Wednesday ahead of a crunch year for the NHS.
The survey found the majority of health chiefs recognised culture change in the NHS was “vital” if quality of care was to improve and public confidence was to be rebuilt in the wake of the landmark Francis Inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS trust scandal.
Bosses were confident of meeting this year’s savings targets but the majority warned they were facing serious financial pressures, with more than one in five saying they were the worst they had ever seen.
Half said pressures had affected waiting times and access to care in the past year, with 70 per cent predicting they would be hit in the coming year. Only two in five said the quality of care would improve in the coming 12 months.
Mr Farrar, who has held several top NHS positions in Yorkshire, said: “NHS leaders clearly get the message that there needs to be real and lasting changes to improve the way we provide care and the way we involve patients and the public in all aspects of their care.
“The poor care highlighted by the Francis Inquiry was a wake- up call to us all – we have to raise our game and commit ourselves to changing the culture of the NHS, being more open and transparent, genuinely listening to patients and their families when they raise concerns, and taking action to remedy our ills.
“These results also show that there is serious concern about the underlying challenges facing the NHS and the pressures building on services.
“In the short term the NHS is holding it together. But the sticking plasters on the creaking parts of the system will only last so long. We are already seeing the pressures on our A&Es bubbling over. Change is absolutely necessary if the NHS is to remain fit for the future – the risks of not doing so are simply too great to ignore.
“Effective long-term change will require NHS leaders, with the support of the public and politicians, to take up the gauntlet and see through some radical changes to the way we deliver care.”
Mr Farrar added: “This survey paints some very worrying pictures. The NHS and its staff face yet another year of pressure – demands on resources are growing and finances are tightening.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the scale of the challenges that lay ahead, but there is cause for optimism. The NHS remains one of the most internationally renowned health services in the world and there is much we should all be proud of.
“It is crystal clear that we need to change our NHS if we want to improve the standards of care patients receive. The Francis report is a sharp reminder that as individuals and collectively as a health service we should never be complacent.
“People working in the NHS genuinely want to improve the care patients receive, in a way that is sustainable in the long term.
“Making these changes won’t be easy, but as the survey shows, unless we take collective action now, we will all be worse off.”