The Sustainability and Transformation Plans have divided the NHS in England into 44 local areas, and each has been told to cut services as part of a nationwide ‘financial reset’. But what’s actually going on, and how much of the government’s reasoning is just spin? NHSpace brings you a handy myth-busting guide.
1 – NHS Trusts aren’t overspending
The narrative of STPs is that our hospitals are in debt due to overspending. That would be true if the government had matched the NHS budget to the actual healthcare needs of our country, but they haven’t.
The cost of healthcare increases by 4% each year. In the UK, this is referred to as ‘NHS inflation’. If NHS funding doesn’t keep pace with this inflation, then services have to be cut or closed.
David Nicholson and Simon Stevens have both used their time as NHS England CEO to implement austerity measures, leading to a cumulative shortfall in funding of at least £35bn per year by 2020:
The NHS is underfunded, and is actually spending less than it should on healthcare. That’s quite the opposite of an ‘overspend’!
2 – The NHS isn’t unaffordable
Pundits love to tell us about the new challenges facing the NHS, claiming that we now cannot afford universal healthcare. We are told that hospitals are overspending and that they are in debt.
In fact, the NHS is extremely affordable. Here’s a list of healthcare spending in several westernised countries in 2014:
||Per person ($)
||% of GDP
As the table shows, the UK could easily choose to dedicate an extra percent of its GDP to healthcare, providing the NHS with the funds needed to sustain a modern health service.
3 – Hospitals aren’t overstaffed
The ‘financial reset’ planned for the NHS includes a limit on staff recruitment, the implication being that hospitals need to cut back on excessive hiring of permanent staff. Considering the billions spent on hiring agency staff to fill rota gaps, this is certainly not true.
The underlying issue here is safety. Following the Francis Report into the Mid Staffs scandal, hospital managers decided that they would rather exceed their budgets and hire more staff, than be guilty of manslaughter. Fed up with being ignored, the DoH is now coming down on managers with an iron fist. Anyone caught protecting staffing levels by overspending will be subject to a ‘failure regime’.
4 – This Isn’t About Centralisation
Centralisation of specialised services can improve outcomes for patients with specific illnesses. But trauma, cardiac and stroke services have already become centralised. For many other illnesses, and for maternity and step-down care, it’s important to have smaller District General Hospitals (DGHs) and Community Hospitals. These provide care closer to home and take the pressure off the big, specialised centres.
So don’t be fooled. Closing A&Es and taking services away from local hospitals isn’t centralisation. It’s un-evidenced vandalism in the name of cost savings.
5 – This Is About Creating A Two Tier System
The level of cuts and closures required by the STPs is such that the NHS will become unable to provide a universal service. Rationing will increase, so that most routine procedures will be refused funding. Once various DGHs have closed, the hospitals still standing will struggle with their increased catchment areas and will be forced to provide essentials only.
This was already envisaged by Simon Stevens, who is keen to separate emergency care from routine care. Emergencies will be handled in NHS hospitals, whilst the routine work will be handled by the private sector. Patients wishing to undergo non-essential procedures will find themselves needing to pay to have their cataracts and hernias treated or their tonsils removed.