Politicians must face reality of tough NHS financial future, says The King's Fund

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Commenting in response to today's report from the NHS Confederation on the financial prospects for the NHS, The King's Fund's Chief Executive Niall Dickson said:

'After a decade of unprecedented spending, the NHS could face drastic cuts after 2011. This report backs up our analysis, which shows that the prospects for the NHS after 2011 will be severe unless the service responds now by improving efficiency and reforming the way care is delivered.

'Our analysis shows the NHS will probably have to operate under these much harsher financial conditions up to 2017 – yet at the same time more older people, more technology and higher expectations will create more demand for health care. We do have a window of opportunity – just under two years – when budgets still look relatively generous and the service can prepare for the lean years ahead.

'In practical terms that means every NHS organisation should be embarking on a rigorous programme of cost control, and every organisation should be working with others to redesign services to improve quality and save money. The two are not necessarily incompatible.

'But what is also required is political courage. We do not need politicians boasting that they will 'spend more than the other lot' when they all know perfectly well that no matter who is in power the next few years will be about managing with less. This is not the time for reassurance – it is a time for difficult messages and support for doctors, nurses and managers who are prepared to reshape services at local level.

'That will mean driving efficiency throughout the system while focusing on the quality of care; concentrating some specialist services in fewer hospitals; moving other services into the community and learning to manage patients better to avoid unnecessary admissions and unnecessarily long stays in hospital. The alternative is to shy away from this agenda, pretend it will all be fine, and risk throwing away the significant advances that have been made in recent years.'

Notes to editors

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King’s Fund press and public affairs office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. The King’s Fund is a charity that seeks to understand how the health system in England can be improved. Using that insight, we help to shape policy, transform services and bring about behaviour change. Our work includes  research, analysis, leadership development and service improvement. We also offer a wide range of resources to help everyone working in health to share knowledge, learning and ideas.