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STPs will not help NHS meet ‘unrealistic’ £22bn efficiency target


8 November 2016

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The Government ambition of making £22bn in efficiency savings by 2020/21 is “unrealistic” according to a report on NHS funding from three leading think tanks.

The report published jointly by the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust ahead of the Autumn Statement, says the NHS has exhausted the “easier options” for making savings and is now “struggling to deliver further improvements at a scale and pace required”.

The Government ambition of making £22bn in efficiency savings by 2020/21 is “unrealistic” according to a report on NHS funding from three leading think tanks.

The report published jointly by the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust ahead of the Autumn Statement, says the NHS has exhausted the “easier options” for making savings and is now “struggling to deliver further improvements at a scale and pace required”.

While the report adds that there are still “significant opportunities” to improve productivity by reducing variation in care delivery and improving clinical practice, John Appleby, director of research and chief economist at the Nuffield Trust said the NHS is “running out of road on that one”.

He said: “It’s very hard to see how the NHS can react in the short-term to the demands placed upon it. It’s sort of struggled by in the last few years.”

Mr Appleby added that it is “very hard” to see how the sustainability and transformation plans, designed to make the £22bn savings, “will meet the 4 or 5% improvements in productivity each year”.

He said: “If the NHS doesn’t ameliorate the money situation our bet is that waiting times would get worse.

“It’s hard to see at the moment the rather heroic plans, in terms of the STPs, meet the financial challenge right now and do something about it right now. These STPs could be great for long term planning but right now it’s very tricky.”

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, also said the STPs will be increasingly difficult to implement as a result of how the NHS has balanced it books.

She said: “From the STP plans, which have been published to date – many of them have been reliant on big capital investment. One of the ways the NHS is trying to balance its books at the moment is raiding capital investment fund to prop up day to day running costs. So actually capital funding is really tight at the moment.”

She added that the “front-loading” of additional funding to ease financial and operational pressures was intended to support some of the investment in transformational programmes but “a lot of that is being used just to bail out provider deficits”.

She said: “So both the capital investment and the support that manages and overseas change – both of those budgets are being raided, which will make implementing the STP plans more and more difficult through this period.”

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