New analysis from The King’s Fund suggests that patients face a long wait before they will see improvements in care as a result of the government’s £20 billion NHS funding boost
The think-tank’s latest Quarterly Monitoring Report (QMR) draws on analysis of NHS performance data and a survey of NHS trust finance directors to assess the prospects for the NHS as it enters the first year of the new five-year funding deal. It suggests that the NHS is still facing substantial financial pressure despite the additional funding available from April this year. The survey of finance directors found that:
- More than a quarter (27 per cent) expect their trust to be in deficit at the end of the current financial year.
- Four-fifths (81 per cent) expect the NHS provider sector to miss the target set in the NHS long-term planfor it to be in balance in 2020/21.
- A similar proportion (79 per cent) expect the NHS to miss the target in the long-term plan that deficits in all NHS organisations will be eliminated by 2023/24.
This suggests that money earmarked to invest in improving services may be needed to cover deficits that have not been planned for, potentially putting at risk ambitions to improve patient care set out in the long-term plan. The survey also raised concerns that under-investment in budgets that fall outside the funding deal – including staff training, capital investment, social care and public health – will undermine commitments to improve financial and operational performance in the NHS.
The QMR also includes analysis of NHS performance data for 2018/19. While the deterioration in performance against key waiting times targets has been widely reported, analysis carried out for the report shows that the NHS also struggled to meet less well-known interim targets set by NHS leaders to get performance back on track.
- The number of people waiting for planned treatment in hospital reached more than 4.3 million in March 2019, the highest on record. This is an increase of 5 per cent since March 2018, despite a target that the waiting list should not increase over the year.
- Performance against the A&E standardcontinues to be poor, with only 86.6 per cent of patients treated within four hours in May, well below the 95 per cent target which NHS leaders have pledged to get back to meeting during 2019.
- More positively, hospitals met a target to halve the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for planned treatment, with the number waiting longer than a year falling from 2,756 in March 2018 to 1,154 a year later. The aim remains for no patients to be waiting over a year for planned care.
Analysis of data for April and May this year suggests little sign of improvement. Just 7 of 119 trusts with major A&E departments met the target for treating 95 per cent of patients within four hours in May, while the proportion of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned treatment in hospital continued to rise in April.
Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund and lead author of the report, said:
‘Our latest quarterly monitoring report provides a reality check as the NHS enters the first year of its new five-year funding deal. Despite the funding boost, unrelenting financial and operational pressures suggest that patients are not going to see improvements in care
for some time yet.
‘Thanks to the hard work of staff, the NHS is treating more patients than ever before. But without a concerted effort to address staff shortages and more investment, ambitions to improve patient care will remain more aspirational than realistic.’