Some spending in the NHS may be delayed or cancelled to meet financial targets, according to data from the King’s Fund. However, the majority of the public has said they would happily pay more taxes to help fund services.
The King’s Fund’s quarterly monitoring report found that 50% of clinical commissioning group (CCGs) said achieving this year’s financial forecast was likely to depend on delaying or cancelling spending.
More than 40% of CCGs said they plan to review or reduce the level of planned treatment they commission following the recent downgrading of the 18-week referral-to-treatment target.
Just under half of CCGs were also uncertain or concerned about their ability to increase funding for mental health services in line with the national commitments.
However, a survey from the Health Foundation found that 64% of adults in Britain think that taxes should be increased as a way of funding the NHS and 88% believe that the NHS should be protected from any funding cuts.
There was also widespread support among the public for ending the pay freeze, which has limited annual pay increases for NHS staff to 1%. More than three quarters (78%) of people said the pay limit should be higher than 1% a year.
Health Foundation assistant policy director Ruth Thorlby said: ‘The NHS is seven years into this decade of austerity, and whoever forms the next government will need to provide additional funding for health and social care if services are to be maintained.’
While progress has been made in reducing spending on agency staff, the report suggests that the underlying financial position remains unpromising, with many trusts having relied on one-off actions such as land sales and payments from the Sustainability and Transformation Fund to improve their position.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Janet Davies said: ‘This should be a wake-up call for politicians in the last week of the election campaign. Promises to increase mental health spending risk being broken while hospitals feel forced to sell-off land just to stay afloat.
‘It has been a political decision not to give the NHS the money it needs in recent years and it goes some way to explaining the 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in the NHS in England. In the final seven days before people head to the polls, every party must commit to the hard cash the NHS needs for treatment and safe staffing.’
The 2017/18 financial year promises to be another difficult one for the NHS, with 43% of trusts expecting to overspend their budget and 46% concerned about meeting financial targets.
King’s Fund director of policy Richard Murray said: ‘With many CCGs planning to delay or cancel spending, local NHS leaders will be forced to make tough decisions about priorities and this is likely to have a direct impact on what care patients can access and how long they have to wait for it.
‘This reinforces the underlying reality that demand for services is continuing to outstrip the rate at which the NHS budget is growing.’