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Press release

The King's Fund comments on NHS productivity

The King’s Fund has published a new explainer on NHS productivity. Charlotte Wickens, Policy Adviser at The King’s Fund, said:

‘With NHS performance below target on a range of measures, and public satisfaction with the NHS at one of the lowest levels in history, politicians are putting the NHS productivity debate on the table when discussing how they would turn things around so that patients can get the timely care they deserve.

‘While there is more than one way to calculate productivity, there is evidence that shows that over the past few decades the productivity of the health care sector in the UK has been growing at a faster rate than other public sector services, such as education, and, more recently, faster than the wider economy. However, evidence shows that in 2020/21, productivity fell by 23%, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, despite increased funding and more staff.

‘Reasons behind the stalling of productivity may include outdated kit and buildings due to repeated raids on capital budgets, low levels of managers to overall staff, high levels of staff burnout, industrial action, issues with hospital flow, and patients having more complex care needs than pre-pandemic. There is also evidence to suggest changes to the way the NHS works, such as an increase in virtual wards, may not be fully captured in the current data.

‘There are already several initiatives aimed at improving NHS productivity, including a financial package set out in the 2024 Spring Budget earmarked for technology, as well as a forthcoming NHS productivity plan. However, there are more actions a future government can take, including addressing the £11.6 billion capital backlog, investing more in social care to improve hospital flow, and going further on making health and care careers more attractive to retain staff and reduce staff sickness absence due to burnout

‘It is right that politicians focus on the productivity of the health service. It is a high area of public spending, and taxpayers and patients understandably want a productive health service. But it is also a complex area and spurs to improve productivity can come at a cost, such as staff burnout. There are areas in which the NHS can become more efficient and reduce waste, but previous national reviews of productivity have shown there needs to be realism over how easy and quickly that can be achieved.’

Read the NHS productivity explainer.

Notes to editors

  1. The King’s Fund has today published a new explainer on NHS productivity.

  2. On 25–26 June, The King’s Fund is hosting an event on NHS productivity. Please contact the media office for details on how to obtain a press pass.

  3. Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund, wrote a blog on NHS productivity.

  4. Charlotte Wickens, Policy Adviser at The King’s Fund, wrote a blog about the capital backlog, and the impact of underinvestment in equipment and buildings.

For further information, or to request an interview, please contact the Press and Public Affairs team on 020 7307 2585. 

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all. 

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