The coalition government has left a huge hole in NHS finances and services under significant strain with a real risk that patient care will suffer according to a new report published by The King’s Fund. It says the NHS has deteriorated over the last two years with key targets being missed and waiting lists at the highest level for years.
Missed waiting time targets include in key areas such as accident and emergency and cancer treatment. Which party will protect the NHS is a central battleground in the election, although not a priority issue for the Tories.
The coalition has left an NHS already in the throes of a cash crisis, with low availability of hospital beds made worse by delayed discharges from hospital. The report found that NHS staff are under significant pressure and morale is an increasing cause for concern.
The first King’s Fund report found the Health and Social Care Act pushed through by the ConDems had been damaging and distracting. Labour has vowed to repeal the act and stop privatisation.
The King’s Fund has warned that trusts are falling into major deficit in the last financial year of this Parliament. It warns that: “By month nine of 2014/15, the NHS trust sector was running a year-to-date deficit of £467m with a forecast end-of-year deficit of £448m.”
Growing crisis in A&E
Waiting times have also had a knock on effect from a growing crisis in A&E even during a mild winter. It said: “pressure on A&E departments can have a knock-on effect in the rest of the hospital….. last winter, the number of cancelled elective operations peaked at 2,424 compared to 1,298 in the same week in the previous year.”
NHS financial warnings have also been echoed in a report by the Financial Times about huge hidden deficits being run up by under pressure hospital trusts. These are likely to amount to, according to the FT, around an accumulative deficit of £3.9 billion by next April.
These figures it says, will only emerge after the election. NHS providers finished 2014-15 with hidden deficits of £1.6 billion and face a further £2.3 billion deficit by April 2016, according to the FT.
Extra money already promised by George Osborne will not fill the budget shortfalls. And £750 million of emergency financial support awarded in December will have to be repaid.
Labour is already pointing to forward planning by the NHS which reveals a cut of 2,000 nursing posts within the next three years, 1,500 of those posts will be lost in mental health services. And while the increasingly desperate Tories have promised £8bn more for the NHS, they will not say how they will find the money or how they will make £12bn in welfare cuts.
Labour’s Andy Burnham said accused the Tories of broken promises. On the Health and Social Care Act he said: “They pushed through a damaging re-organisation without the consent of the public and the NHS has gone downhill ever since. Thursday May 7 is shaping up to be David Cameron’s day of reckoning on the NHS.
“In 2010, Cameron said he would cut the deficit, not the NHS. What this report reveals, is that he is on course to create a large deficit in the NHS.
“It is scandalous that he spent £3bn on a re-organisation that has left the NHS worse off. Hospitals are now trapped in a financial vicious circle with bills for agency staff running out of control and staff failing to keep pace with demand.
“What is clear is that the fragile NHS we now have can’t take five more years like the five it has just had. It can’t afford the Tories’ plan for deeper care cuts in the next Parliament.
It urgently needs new leadership and a change of course. Labour has set out a better plan to restore the NHS, rebuild it as a national health and care service and invest £2.5bn extra a year – on top of Tory spending plans – to fund 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs.”
And while David Cameron likes to paint the Tories as the party which protects the NHS, Labour MP Andrew Slaughter has been in a three-year battle to save A&Es and hospitals from closure. “I’m angered when I hear David Cameron talk about how he wants to protect the NHS.
“My area, like so many others, has seen a sustained and direct attack on the NHS. North west London is being used as a test ground for the wholesale closure of A&E departments across England.
“The plans in this area are to reduce A&E services from nine down to only five for two million people. Four have been ear-marked for closure, two of those have already been closed.
“There is a two week wait,” he says for a GP appointment. “The London Ambulance Service has been in crisis with sometimes people waiting for 2 hours in pain for an ambulance.”
Nearby Charing Cross hospital (pictured) is earmarked for total demolition. From being one of the largest teaching hospitals in the UK, it is being knocked down and replaced with flats.
In its place will be a small unit with 24 beds run by GPs offering elective day surgery. Andrew Slaughter says the coalition impact on the NHS has been horrendous.
“The NHS has not been protected” says Andrew Slaughter who is standing for re-election in Hammersmith with Unite support . “We have had a three year battle to save services from closure and demolition.
Cuts have caused chaos
“The Tories have not protected frontline services as they promised, their cuts have caused chaos. The NHS will not survive as we know it if we allow them another five years to slash and burn.”
Barrie Brown, Unite national officer for health says it is a worrying time for staff. “If Cameron and his gang get in again then the privatisation agenda will accelerate” he told UNITElive. “ There are staff who may have been in the NHS for 20 years who don’t know if they will have been transferred to a private company like Virgin or Serco by the end of this year.
“There is a clear danger that services will be fragmented because of the environment created by the Health and Social Act. Private companies are looking to cherry pick profitable areas.
“Staff satisfaction and morale are falling. We’ve seen a two-year pay freeze and then Hunt, for the first time ever, even during Thatcher’s Government, totally rejecting the recommendations of the pay review body for 1.2m staff in England.”