AS the NHS prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, this most treasured of public services can justifiably look back on a proud record of achievement that has undoubtedly made Britain a better place.
But the challenges it faces in the years ahead are formidable, and its future far less certain than both its staff and patients would like. Those challenges are starkly illustrated by the scale of the financial problems in health trusts across our region that we reveal today.
It is deeply concerning that some trusts have racked up combined deficits of more than £160m. Even when offset by the figures from better-performing trusts, the service is £72m in the red. Inevitably, this means that patients and hard-pressed front-line staff will bear the brunt of efforts to cut costs.
This must be tackled as a matter of urgency by both local managers and the Government. The NHS faces a series of intractable problems that put enormous pressure on budgets. A growing and ageing population, allied to rising medical costs for those living longer and costly debt payments, mean that pressure will only increase.
Such pressures will have to be managed better than is currently happening in some areas. If trusts in our region are able to return a surplus, as we reveal, then there are lessons to be learned by those performing less well.
Yet the warnings of health professionals that Theresa May’s pledge of an extra £20bn a year for the NHS is insufficient cannot be disregarded. Whilst it is a huge sum, it may not meet the ever-growing demands on the service.
But once again, this comes back to effective management, both nationally and locally.
The additional funding must be put to the best possible use to ensure that the NHS can look forward to its next 70 years with confidence.