NHS 'won't meet improvement target'
The NHS will struggle to meet its target of delivering £20 billion in productivity improvements by 2015, a health charity has warned.
Just 10% of NHS finance directors surveyed rated the chances of meeting the target as better than 50/50, according to the King's Fund's latest quarterly monitoring report. More than half (56%) identified a high or very high risk that the target will not be met, while a third (34%) rated the likelihood of success as 50/50.
The survey, which provides a regular update on how the health service is coping, includes finance leads from clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) as well as trust finance directors this quarter, and highlights the growing pressures on NHS providers. Only a third (33%) of trusts surveyed expected to meet their cost improvement targets for 2013/14 - a sharp fall on the same quarter last year when nearly three-quarters were confident of meeting their targets.
The poll found commissioners were more optimistic, with 72% of CCG finance leads expecting to meet their organisation's targets but 11% said they expect their organisation to be in deficit in 2013/14. And nearly a third (31%) said patient care in their area had got worse over the past year, compared to 14% who said it had improved.
With 61 hospitals breaching the Government's target, the King's Fund said it reinforces the challenge the NHS faces in managing pressures in A&E over the coming winter, despite new funding announced last week.
Over the first quarter of 2013/14, 241,000 patients (4.3%) spent four hours or more in A&E. Although this is back within target range, it is the highest level for this quarter since 2004. Other key findings from the King's Fund's analysis were that the number of health care-acquired infections continues to fall, with 398 cases of C difficile and 24 counts of MRSA recorded in June this year.
The survey of trust finance directors and CCG finance leads also found that nearly three-quarters (72%) were pessimistic about the prospects for their local health economy over the next 12 months and only 10% optimistic about this.
Professor John Appleby, chief economist at The King's Fund, said: "Now just over half way through the so-called Nicholson Challenge, it is clear the NHS will struggle to meet its £20 billion productivity target, with potentially serious consequences for patient care. The reality for many hospitals is that they face an uncomfortable choice between whether to prioritise the quality of services for patients or allow performance in some areas to slip in order to balance the books."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We know the NHS is facing increasing pressures. Our priority is to deliver better care and a more sustainable NHS - that is why we have set out bold and radical steps to transform the way out-of-hospital care is delivered.
"Starting with vulnerable older people, last week the Health Secretary set out proposals for more proactive primary care, better integration of health and social care and proper use of electronic health records and care plans - with a named GP accountable for making sure they receive this care. We want to transform the quality of care received by vulnerable older people and make sure they are better supported in their homes and their communities, so they get the treatment they need in the best place for them."