As the NHS faces ‘damaging cuts’ a long‑term funding settlement is needed, three leading think tanks have said in a letter to the Prime Minister.
The King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation describe how ‘historically low funding increases’ have left the NHS under pressure and ask for annual increases of 4% as recommended by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Trusts in England have deficits of £960 million – twice what was expected according to NHS Improvement.
‘This is the minimum required to keep pace with rising demand for services, provide some investment in key priorities such as mental health, cancer and general practice and continue the transformation of services set out in the NHS five year forward view,’ said the letter.
‘Anything less than this risks further deterioration in standards of patient care and would delay tackling the growing backlog of buildings maintenance, including safety critical repairs. If sufficient funding is not provided, patients and families will pay the price as the service declines.’
In an interview with The Guardian, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that Theresa May was ‘unbelievably committed’ to funding increases and that he has been lobbying for 4% increases. However, reports from the treasury have claimed anything above 2.5% is unaffordable.
The letter also highlighted two main concerns in the NHS: staff shortages and social care.
‘In the short term, there is no option but to recruit more staff from overseas and to relax controls on visas to make this possible. In the long term, the NHS needs to develop a strategic approach to workforce planning to ensure that we are able to meet more of our workforce needs from within the UK,’ said the report.
‘The current [social care] system is failing service users, carers and families, with at least 400,000 fewer older people now able to access publicly funded social care than in 2010. The need for reform remains as urgent as when you made the case for it during the general election campaign.’
However, Mr Hunt has already conceded he will not meet the target of 5,000 new GPs by 2020, and his social care green paper has been criticised by the King’s Fund and the Health Foundation.
The NHS’s 70th anniversary is on 5 July which is when the new funding settlement will be announced and the social care green paper will be published.