YP Comment: Difficult choices on NHS budgets. Hospitals need to cut costs

A mass march in Leeds over NHS cuts.
A mass march in Leeds over NHS cuts.
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CUTTING hospital budgets is never an easy task, but the scale of the challenges facing NHS trusts across Yorkshire is daunting even by the standards of the financial problems of the service in recent years.

At the heart of the difficulties facing the NHS is a perfect storm of circumstances. An expanding population and rising birth rates mean more people than ever before are being referred to hospital.

That population is also living longer thanks to medical advances, and consequently placing additional demands on health services as it grows older.

Add to that a spiralling bill for agency staff to plug gaps to cope with increasing numbers of patients, and the pressure on budgets approaches a critical level.

Yet these challenges must be confronted and solutions found if the NHS is to deliver the service that the public expects of it, and what is clear from the figures from Yorkshire’s health trusts is that deep, and possibly uncomfortable, cuts in budgets cannot be avoided.

It is also clear that definitive answers to questions of where those cuts should fall are still being worked out, given that of the £65m sought by the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, some £40m 
has yet to be identified. There is, though, the prospect of funding from the Government’s Sustainability and Transformation Fund in return for economies being made, which is a powerful incentive. Even so, transforming balance sheets from substantial deficits into break-even or surplus positions will be a monumentally difficult task.

The warnings by health unions that the NHS is at breaking point cannot be taken lightly, but amassing huge and increasing year-on-year deficits that are unsustainable is simply not an option.

However daunting the task of making cuts of £140m to Yorkshire’s hospital budgets proves, it is clearly the only way forward.

Tory turmoil over EU

THE debate over Britain’s membership of the EU continues to generate more heat than light, with yesterday’s angry exchanges between Tory big-hitters demonstrating the depths of bitterness within the party.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major’s uncharacteristically blunt language about the Brexit camp in general and its most prominent figure, Boris Johnson, in particular, illustrates how deeply the Conservatives are divided, and how hard it will be for them to forge any unity after the referendum on June 23.

When grave accusations of “squalid” and “deceitful” behaviour are levelled by Sir John, they are also illustrative of how finely-balanced both the Brexit camp and those campaigning for Britain to remain believe the debate to be.

But the undisguised, and apparently growing, hostility between the two camps risks them losing sight of the needs of the voters.

The stridency of claim and counter-claim continues to make it extremely difficult for the electorate to sort fact from assertion.

With a little more than a fortnight until a decision that whatever its result will determine Britain’s course for generations to come, there remains the real risk of voters being left confused as to what to do for the best as Conservative in-fighting appears to take precedence over the imparting of trustworthy information.

The so-called “Blue on Blue” attacks of Conservatives upon each other have been condemned by both sides, yet appear to be intensifying in bitterness and frequency rather than diminishing. It is time that both camps put voters uppermost in their minds.

The Greatest: World mourns Muhammad Ali

WE shall never see his like again. The global outpouring of sorrow at the death of Muhammad Ali is eloquent testimony to how inspiring, influential and beloved this sporting titan was.

Not only was he the greatest boxer ever to climb into a ring, but the fights he took on outside it for equality and civil rights made his country a better, fairer place to live and gave others the hope and belief that they could follow his example.

His dazzling speed, agility and power elevated boxing to a level of skill and popularity that it could never have foreseen, and his wit, verbal dexterity and warmth made him a citizen of the world, welcomed and acclaimed wherever he went.

He proclaimed himself The Greatest. Coming from a lesser mortal, such an assertion would have seemed merely boastful. Coming from Muhammad Ali, it was a simple statement of fact.