NHS finances have been causing successive British governments headaches for decades, and those who try to reign its finances in are often left red in the face. The British public are highly supportive of the health service and, quite rightly, are aggrieved by and resistant to attempts to cut its spending.
However, the simple fact of the matter is that the NHS simply cannot continue on its current path to ruin, with figures showing that NHS hospitals are in their worst financial situation for a generation. Among the more alarming revelations, is that between April and June this year NHS trusts managed to build up a £930 million deficit – more than the whole of 2014’s £820 million overspend. While something absolutely needs to be done about this situation, the government must resist the urge to cut expensive – but necessary – frontline services. The NHS is an essential feature of British Society, and is depended upon by millions for treatments that are central to the provision of a good quality of life but it is not something that can be maintained without greater funding from government.
When it comes to cutting the NHS’s overspend, much of the government’s attention seems to have fallen unnecessarily on the cost of agency staff and it has become far too easy to focus on this as the problem. Jeremey Hunt’s proposal to ban ‘rip off’ agency fees for doctors and nurses may seem sensible on the surface, but the reality is that locum practitioners provide vital care when other professionals are unavailable. Their high costs are often the result of supply and demand. It is also disingenuous, when you consider that interim Executives are paid huge amounts in the face of squeezed budgets. One of the best examples of this has been the recent news that Medway Hospital Trust has been paying £1 million for an interim finance chief, despite being in special measures.
Instead of focusing so heavily on pay, policymakers should consider other care-based solutions and the role they could play in alleviating the financial strain on the NHS. Bringing together the health and social care system may prove a challenge in the short term but, if successfully implemented, a combined system could be much more fiscally effective while also improving patient care. Placing a greater emphasis on home care and care in the community would take some of the pressure off the NHS and reduce some of their biggest problems, such as bed-blocking. Rather than focusing on public sector vs. private sector, the debate needs to be assess best outcomes and alternative solutions.