NHS funding boost needed to avoid social care-style crisis, says NHS Providers

By Ella Pickover, PA Health Correspondent
·5-min read

The NHS cannot cope with its current budget, health leaders have said as they called on the Prime Minister to avoid a “have our cake and eat it” approach to NHS funding.

NHS Providers called for more investment in the health service which is facing a “perfect storm” as it goes into winter.

The NHS faces multiple challenges alongside traditional winter pressures including the threat of a second spike of Covid-19, recovering services which were disrupted during the pandemic, staff in danger of burnout and additional pressures for infection control, NHS Providers said.

Even before the pandemic struck earlier this year “growing demand for treatment has consistently outstripped capacity”, according to NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson.

“Despite the best efforts of frontline staff treating more patients than ever before, many patients have not received the care they need and that NHS staff wanted to provide,” he added.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, called for the Government to examine funding for the NHS.

Mr Hopson told the NHS Providers’ first online conference that the health service faces a “similar fate” to social care – which is “in crisis” because it has not been funded properly and sustainably.

The NHS faces a similar fate if it is not properly funded, he added.

“We elect our politicians to tackle the difficult issues. For two decades they have failed us deeply, consistently and unacceptably by promising to sort the crisis in social care and then failing to do so,” he said.

“Having driven social care into crisis by failing to fund it properly and sustainably, we must avoid driving the NHS into a similar fate. And we obviously need to rescue social care from its current state of crisis.”

Mr Hopson added: “Before Covid-19 arrived, the NHS was in danger of heading for the slippery slope of unsustainability down which social care has tumbled with ever-increasing speed.”

As well as more funds for the core NHS budget, the body called for more spending on buildings, equipment and staff training.

NHS Providers warning
Chris Hopson warned the NHS is facing a “perfect storm” (handout/PA)

Mr Hopson added: “It is impossible to see how the NHS can deliver the Long Term Plan, meet the manifesto commitments and cover the costs of Covid-19 on the current NHS funding settlement.

“All three elements of NHS funding – the capital budget; the non-ringfenced wider departmental budget that includes NHS education and training spending; and the core NHS England revenue budget; all need revisiting.

“I recognise the pressures on public expenditure. But we have to avoid what the Prime Minister calls his “have our cake and it” approach and pretend the NHS can cope with all these pressures on its current budget. It can’t.”

On the funding boost announced around the NHS’s 70th birthday, he said: “Compared to what had gone before, and to other public services, that was a generous settlement.

“But we all argued at the time that it barely kept up with demand. It didn’t allow the NHS to recover performance. And it certainly didn’t pay for the transformation that was needed.”

On Covid-19, Mr Hopson continued: “In a worst-case scenario, we face a perfect storm of a full second Covid-19 surge alongside normal winter pressures at the same time as going full pelt to recover services and process care backlogs.

“At a time when, on the other side of the coin, staff are really tired and in danger of burning out.

“And some trusts are losing up to 30% of capacity due to the need to keep patients safe by separating Covid and non-Covid patients.”

To help trusts navigate the “choppy waters ahead”, he called on the Government to ensure that there is a “robust and effective testing regime” and “appropriately tough” local lockdowns.

But he stressed that the NHS is still treating non-Covid patients, warning that patients believing the service is working as a “Covid-only” service was “dangerous”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “This Government has put never-before-seen levels of investment into our NHS, both before and during the global pandemic.

“We provided £31.9 billion extra in July for health services to tackle coronavirus, with £3 billion specifically to support the NHS during winter and to update A&E facilities.

“Alongside this we confirmed funding for 40 new hospitals, as part of the biggest hospital building programme in a generation, and the capital budget is increasing by a further £2.5 billion this year, to continue investing in existing NHS buildings.

“We know there is a need for a long-term solution for social care and are looking at a range of proposals as part of our commitment to bringing forward a plan that puts the sector on a sustainable footing for the future.”