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NHS unable to see benefits of increased spending and staffing

NHS unable to see benefits of increased spending and staffing
By Jess Hacker
21 June 2023

The NHS has been unable to ‘secure the full benefits’ of increased spending and staff numbers, with performance against targets deteriorating further since the pandemic, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

There is also considerable variation across regions, the Office warned, particularly visible in the number of patients per GP, ranging from 2,198 in one integrated care system (ICS) to 1,430 in another.

In a new report titled Access to unplanned and urgent care and published today (21 June), the NAO highlighted that productivity in the NHS had fallen by 23% since the onset of the pandemic – after rising by 18% between 2004-05 and 2017-18 – indicating that the NHS was struggling to see the benefit of increased funding.

It also marked that performance against operational standards had ‘deteriorated further since the onset of the pandemic’, citing that patient satisfaction with GP appointment times reached their lowest level over the last five years in 2022 and pointing to data that showed ambulance handovers exceeding 30 minutes peaked at 118,692 in December 2022.

And neither has the NHS met its key operational standards for unplanned or urgent care since the pandemic, with July 2015 standing as the last time the NHS met its target for 95% of A&E patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival.

The NAO said that patient access and satisfaction is worsening despite the NHS spending ‘increasing amounts of public money and employing record numbers of people’, suggesting there is no ‘straightforward solution’ to improving the system.

Meg Hillier, MP and chair of the committee of public accounts: ‘The NHS has more funding and staff than ever before, but patient access to urgent and emergency care – both in hospitals and in the community – is deteriorating across a suite of measures, with this decline long predating the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘It’s clear more of the same won’t work. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS

England need to wake up to the severity of these long-term trends if they are going to give patients

the service they deserve.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘While funding has increased, it has not been in line with historic rates and it has failed to keep pace with demand for well over a decade.

‘In terms of NHS staffing, it is true that numbers have increased over a period of time, but these are still a long way from where patients need them to be, and while we hope that the long-term workforce plan will help address this, with issues remaining around pay and conditions for many staff, progress towards our desired destination may be slow.’

He added: ‘But there is a clear need for wider action, including a shift to viewing national health as more than just NHS policy. We need a strategy for national health, which includes social care and takes into account the wider determinants of health.’

Former chancellor George Osborne yesterday said he ‘completely rejects’ the claim that austerity policies weakened the UK’s health and social care capacity.

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