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NHS 'buckling under pressure' of austerity, finds report

Warnings that the NHS is poorly placed to deal with continuing austerity show the health service is ‘buckling under the pressure’, the BMA has said.

Piggy bankThe Nuffield Trust examined the audited accounts of NHS organisations in England between 2010 and 2014.

Its report Into the Red? finds that until last year the NHS was coping well with the funding squeeze caused by increasing demand on the health service and the consequences of public sector austerity.

But provisional data from the 2013/14 financial year suggests that the cracks are starting to show.

NHS and foundation trusts were at least £100m in the red in the last financial year — with 66 trusts in deficit in 2013/14. This compares to a surplus of £383m in 2012/13 and 45 trusts in deficit. Deficits were most concentrated in London and the Midlands, and were predominantly in the acute hospital sector.

'Tipping point'

Despite an overall underspend, 19 clinical commissioning groups ended the last financial year in deficit and NHS England predicted a £377m overspend on specialised services.

Report co-author and Nuffield Trust senior policy fellow Andy McKeon said the NHS had risen to the challenge of living within its means over the past three years ‘but it has now reached a tipping point’.

He said: ‘Our analysis shows just how poorly placed it is to cope with the squeeze still to come.

‘Demand for NHS services shows no signs of abating. With hospital finances increasingly weak, growing pressures on staffing, and the goal of moving care out of hospitals and into the community proving elusive, the NHS is heading for a funding crisis this year or next.’

GPs overwhelmed

BMA council chair Mark Porter (pictured below) said the figures ‘show the NHS is buckling under the pressure of rising patient demand and stagnating resources’.

Mark PorterHe said: ‘Every part of our health service is suffering, from understaffed, overworked hospitals to GP practices that are being overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients coming through the surgery door.

‘It is clear that many problems in the NHS are coming to a head. We need politicians to stop chasing votes by coming up with short-term policy gimmicks, especially the pointless obsession with competition as enshrined in the Health and Social Care Act that delivers no benefits to patient care.

‘Reintroducing targets in areas [such as] general practice will also do little to address the fundamental funding shortfalls undermining the NHS.’

He urged the government, health professionals and the public to work together to find long-term solutions to the challenges facing the NHS.

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