Lord Carter, the person tasked with identifying costs saving measures within the NHS has today sent to each NHS Trust a document setting out their individual cost saving target based upon his assessment of their practices. At a time when the NHS are all too quick to point the finger at Claimant lawyer’s when it comes to wasted NHS funds, the figures clearly show that it’s time for NHS managers and advisors to retreat and put their own houses in order.
Lord Carter spent a year working with 22 hospitals to determine how efficiently money was spent on each area of NHS services. He looked at spending on medicines, dressings, heating and other everyday expenses. What he found was huge inconsistencies throughout the NHS. Some hospitals and departments were found to be acting very efficiently and obtaining the best value for money for the tax payer, whereas others were found to be wasteful and inefficient.
Lord Carter’s targets are broken down by department, meaning that he will not only be watching each hospital as a whole, but individual specialities within them. In other words, there will be no room to escape. The top 5 areas of practice where the maximum saving is thought to be available are:
- General medicine – £381m
- Obstetrics and gynaecology – £362m
- Trauma and orthopaedics – £286m
- Pathology – £256m
- Cancer Services – £255m
Claimant’ solicitors are currently under a barrage of misleading criticism from the NHS for high fees incurred in representing patients who have been harmed by avoidable failings of the NHS. However, with fees for Claimant Solicitors totalling under £292million last year, those so called disproportionate costs fall far short of the money that Lord Carter has shown is thrown away by just one department area within the NHS every year.
Good clinical negligence lawyers only charge for work that is necessary and actually been carried out. Their costs are carefully scrutinised by costs lawyers and judges before a bill is paid. A lot of the work is often necessary because the NHS fails to admit its errors early on. There is a strong argument that none of those legal fees are wasted. The £1.5billion that Lord Carter says can be saved by just 5 areas of medicine throughout the NHS is however wasted. The wastage arises out of poor practice, poor procurement decisions and poor management, the resolution of which offers a much simpler, effective and appropriate way of saving the NHS money, along with improving patient care. Cutting out poor treatment would inevitably not only save money in terms of reducing on-going treatment costs but as a bi-product, reduce legal costs by preventing the underlying cause of claims.
Lord Carter is supported by leading NHS figures including Professor Tom Briggs, an Orthopaedic Surgeon, who has already standardised his own department in order to run efficiently. But Professor Briggs does not think that the key to cost savings lies with the doctors and nurses on the ground, but that the changes need to drill right down to the procurement process. He told Radio 4:
If you look at the other side too – which is procurement – we’ve got to get our costs down … everybody says, ‘We’ve got the best deal’, when they clearly haven’t.
Lord Carter thinks that the good leadership is the key to high-quality care and efficient use of resources. He said:
The route to better care is to empower NHS leaders, so giving them the data and support they need means they can improve how they care for patients and make savings which can be reinvested in front-line care.
But surely this should not be news to NHS bosses? NHS trusts are effectively businesses, the only difference is that their aim is to break even or with a budget surplus, rather than making profit. One would think that NHS leaders would have sufficient acumen to have recognised the need for cost saving and carried out Lord Carter’s task without a former Labour peer having to become involved?
Regardless of who should have come up with these proposals, they come at the right time. The NHS has revealed that just three months into the financial year if faces a deficit of nearly £1billion, more than the overspend for the entire last financial year.
Hospitals will now have the opportunity to discuss their budgets with Lord Carter before they are made public. No doubt there will be some negotiation on the figures as NHS managers fret at the feasibility of achieving these targets when their staff are already at breaking point.
It might also be a call for campaigners against Claimant Solicitors to re-evaluate their position and take stock of what is actually causing the NHS coffers to bleed.