The 2015/16 budget for the whole of the NHS was balanced, but only just by the Department of Health and in order to do so they had to raid capital budgets and make the most of a windfall in respect of National Insurance Contributions.
However, at a more local level within individual trusts there is also grave cause for concern with many trusts failing to reach the end of the financial year without going into deficit and trust now being placed in special measures in respect of financial matters.
Is patient care going to suffer?
Inevitably the trusts responsible for our hospitals are being forced to look at cost cutting measures. Central Government may now have eased some of the financial burden by permitting more than 50 hospitals in England to miss key waiting time targets. Fines for missing targets in A & E, cancer and routine operations have been scrapped altogether.
Enforcement of waiting time targets has been key to driving up standards of care and ensuring that patients receive prompt attention with health problems. It is not surprising that Patient Safety Groups are expressing concern about the removal of financial penalties as an important incentive to save money is being eroded with this step.
New regime for worst performing trusts
Five of the worst performing trusts including North Bristol NHS Trust, which in 2014 saw the opening of the new ‘super hospital’ at Southmead have been placed into the new regime for failing trusts. Others include Barts Health in London, Croydon Health Services, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals.
The approach taken under the new regime is that if the hospital shows improvement on current performance further finance will be available to the trust rather than a system of levying fines for poor performance.
It remains to be seen whether this will result in any improvement to the patient experience but the NHS remains an organisation under strain.