NHS leaders in England will be forced to choose which services must be cut unless the Government provides extra funding to cover the rising cost of industrial action, among other cost pressures, the NHS Confederation has said.
Strike action in England is estimated to have cost the NHS £1.4 billion – with further strikes this winter set to push the cost higher – compounding financial pressure brought by rising drug prices and continuing healthcare costs.
Both consultants and junior doctors took part in joint strike action last month for the first time in history.
Health leaders are now already considering which services must be cut, operating under the expectation that they will need to reduce costs further, the NHS Confederation warned.
This would include restricting the number of extra beds they open this winter to manage expected higher demand, putting the NHS’ winter plan to introduce 5,000 more beds at risk of failure.
Leaders have also warned that progress on waiting lists may stall, anticipating that the NHS will miss Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to reduce the size of the waiting list by March 2024.
That waiting list stood at 7.2 million when the pledge was made in January this year, but has grown to 7.75 million: around 100,000 a month.
Last week, it was reported that the Government has agreed to meet with the BMA Consultants Committee in the hope to find a resolution to the current pay dispute.
NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said that both health leaders and health secretary Steve Barclay know the Government must ‘make an urgent decision on whether to cover the unplanned costs of strike action’ and other higher costs.
‘NHS leaders tell me that they are already having to take difficult choices every day on which services to cut back as they are not expecting any extra money to make up for the shortfall caused by the strikes, higher drug prices and pay costs being higher than the funding allocated at the start of the year. This will make an already difficult winter even harder to get through and we need the government to face up to this risk.’
Responding to the Confederation’s statement, BMA council chair Professor Phil Banfield said that striking workers ‘are not to blame for the current financial crisis’ in the NHS, adding that it has been ‘years in the making’.
He said: ‘This is not about short-term solutions, but about long-term investment. Credible pay offers to bring about an end to disputes with doctors will help to ensure a more sustainable medical workforce.
‘It is crucial that the NHS has enough funding this winter and beyond so that instead of facing an ‘impossible choice’ about what care it can deliver, NHS leaders can feel confident about delivering the PM’s promise to the people about the future of our health service.’
Last month, health leaders warned that patients are often experiencing ‘two or more’ cancelled operations due to industrial action.