NHS making great strides but focus must now shift to chronic conditions, says The King's Fund

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The King's Fund today welcomed the latest Department of Health annual report on NHS performance as further proof that health services are improving, but warned that the focus should now shift to people with long-term chronic conditions, such as such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

The King's Fund health policy director Jennifer Dixon said:

'Without doubt health services in the UK are improving. Waiting times are coming down, accident and emergency services are improving and more and more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are being recruited.

'But the real worry for government and the NHS now is how we deal with the 17.5 million people who suffer from long-term chronic diseases. These are the costliest for the NHS to treat and there is good evidence that better treatment in primary care can reduce the risk. About one per cent of the population use around 46 per cent of hospital resources, and many of that one per cent will be people with multiple chronic conditions. A large proportion of ill health and costs can and should be prevented.

'On top of this, there is a juggernaut heading for the NHS with the obesity and diabetes epidemic, worsening rates of binge drinking and the worrying rise in sexually transmitted disease. If the government truly wants to improve health, it will need to move away from a preoccupation with health services that focuses almost exclusively on hospital care, towards a broader approach that gives priority to maintaining health and reducing health inequalities.'

The King's Fund chief economist John Appleby added:

'Today's report shows the NHS has been successful in reducing waiting times, but it has to keep its eye on the ball if these reductions can be sustained. However, the six per cent increase in emergency admissions is worrying and is partly the result of efforts to meet the government's four-hour maximum waiting time target for accident and emergency.

'This once again raises the question as to whether the extra money being pumped into the NHS is reaching the front line and making a difference to patients' health. This is hard to gauge as the NHS measures activity - patients treated and operations carried out - rather than the most important outcome - health. More money is going into the NHS but we don't know if the quality of care is improving. Measuring patients' overall health on a regular basis means we would then have a better idea of determining how productive the NHS is becoming for all the extra money going in to the system.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information and interviews, please contact Michael Moruzzi in the King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585, or Daniel Reynolds on 020 7307 2581 or 07831 554927.

2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.