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Efforts to cut waiting list in vain without Autumn Budget funding

Efforts to cut waiting list in vain without Autumn Budget funding
By Jess Hacker
21 November 2023

The Chancellor must make additional funding available in the Autumn Statement or risk undermining efforts to cut waiting lists, the Nuffield Trust has warned.

New analysis from the think thank has cautioned that despite £450m additional funding being made available to the NHS earlier this month, its current financial situation is ‘precarious’, with slower progress than anticipated on improving care quality and access.

The think tank also warned that the situation could ‘rapidly deteriorate further’ if more junior doctors and consultant strike dates are called before the financial year’s end.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will make his Autumn Statement on Wednesday (22 November).

The budget comes as NHS England further reduced the national elective recovery activity target from 105% to 103%, with £800m allocated to ICBs sourced from reprioritised national budgets and new funding.

Today’s analysis forms part of the first instalment of the Health and Care Finance Tracker which will follow the financial health of the NHS and adult social care towards the next UK general election, expected by January 2025.

It found:

  • Further doctors strikes to the scale seen earlier this fiscal year could see the deficit grow to £2.4bn
  • If strike action is off the table for the end of the financial year, NHS England estimates it would save £700m on reduced overtime and temporary staff bill, bringing the deficit for the year down to £1.7bn
  • There was a £720m financial gap at the start of the financial year due to the gap between original budgeting and projected spending for local NHS systems.

Nuffield Trust’s senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said: ‘Given the NHS budget was already overstretched at the start of this financial year, with little room to manoeuvre, it is not a surprise that the combination of long running strike action and underwhelming financial support from central government have left the NHS finances in an extremely precarious position. Without additional financial support from government, the NHS faces an uphill battle to balance its books this year without severely impacting the level and standard of care the public expect.’

She added: ‘In the short-term, it may be rational and sensible to point limited resources towards protecting access to urgent and emergency care over the almost certainly busy months ahead. However, more pillaging of healthcare improvement, technology, capital, and maintenance budgets, in the long run further chips away at the resilience and efficiency of hospitals and NHS services.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘NHS leaders have been voicing concerns for months about the extra costs caused by the strikes and the £800m announced by the Government still leaves the NHS falling short of the full financial impact of industrial action. Further to this, we know that if walkouts start again all bets are off and we would be back to square one.’

He added: ‘The Chancellor should be increasing capital investment not raiding existing capital budgets as a sticking plaster to cover the costs of industrial action.’

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