October 10: Act now on NHS financial crisis

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IT is no exaggeration to say that the NHS is facing its “worst” financial position “in a generation”, the damning verdict of two health regulators.

The near £1bn deficit accrued by NHS trusts in England in the first quarter of the financial year exceeded the £820m overspend recorded in the whole of 2014-15. Many factors are at play – an ageing population, hospital trusts inheriting historic and unsustainable debts and the £3bn a year now spent on hiring agency staff to name three.

Yet, while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is right to cap the amount of money which can be paid to temporary medical staff, hospitals already have insufficient doctors and nurses to fill existing shift patterns – and that is before the Government presses ahead with its 24/7 care plan so patients receive better treatment at weekends and night-time. His response to these much-delayed reports is indicative of a well-meaning politician struggling to cope with the scale of the financial crisis bedevilling the National Health Service before the onset of winter when more people, particularly the elderly, require care.

Is more money the answer – or does their need to be a radical overhaul of the management of NHS trusts to reduce the tiers of bureaucracy? It is a debate that does need to be held – patient demand will only increase as a result of medical advances. In the meantime, Mr Hunt – and the Prime Minister for that matter – need to accept that the Health Service is facing a financial emergency and treat it as such. That means setting up a special task force so patient care is not unduly compromised in the critical weeks and months to come. It’s that serious.

Generation game: Rural schools deserve equality

THE LATEST campaign calling for fairer funding rural schools, and which has been instigated by the newly-elected Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, should be seen in the context of a largely successful Conservative Party conference this week which was underpinned by the theme of social justice for all sections of society.

For, despite David Cameron proclaiming in his speech that “education is the springboard to opportunity” and “you can’t have true opportunity without real equality”, the specific challenges facing rural areas were not mentioned by the Prime Minister, Environment Secretary Liz Truss or Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Given that the Tories pride themselves on being the party of the countryside, it was a significant and disappointing oversight. For, as Mr Sunak makes clear in today’s newspaper, one of the most important responsibilities of this generation of leaders is to provide “a fairly funded and excellent education” for “the next generation”.

It is also testament to his foresight, and campaigning skills, that he’s now working with more than 50 teachers and governors to see how funding formula can pay greater heed to the specific challenges faced by schools in rural communities. The hard task is not obtaining the necessary evidence, it is actually going further than previous initiatives on the same subject and winning a fairer, and more equitable, deal at a time of financial restraint across the public sector. And that will only happen when the Government accepts that equality does also apply to Yorkshire’s rural heartlands.

Fracking’s future: Ryedale residents must be won over

if FRACKING is in the national interest, and not harmful to the environment, why is there so much opposition in rural areas like Ryedale where district councillors are now trying to impose a five-year moratorium on proposals to extract shale gas in order to assuage local residents? This is the question that the energy industry, and the Government, need to answer if fracking is to be the panacea envisaged by Ministers who are committed to speeding up the planning process so applications are not delayed by protracted disputes.

After all, Ryedale District Council’s position is at odds with the conclusions made by the area’s MP, Kevin Hollinrake, following a fact-finding visit to America. Writing in The Yorkshire Post on Monday, he said that the economic benefits of fracking could generate “the opportunity of our lifetimes” if the environmental safeguards were sufficiently robust. However this will only happen if applicants like Third Energy, whose fracking proposals fo Kirby Misperton continue to be the source of so much mistrust, work more constructively with local communities rather than being at loggerheads with the very people who will have to live with the consequences of drilling work. It is the only sensible way forward.