NHS services in England are facing a ‘mission impossible’ to meet the standards required by the government, warns NHS Providers, which represents hospital, mental health and ambulance trust bosses.
It said front-line services simply do not have enough money and predicts as a result, longer waits for hospital operations and more delays in A&E. NHS Providers predicts its members, which account for nearly two-thirds of health spending, will get £89.1bn in 2017-18. This is 2.6% more than they got this year, but crucially just half of the 5.2% demand is expected to grow by.
Chief executive Chris Hopson said it was time for the government to ‘sit up and listen’. He described the goals for next year – to get back to hitting the waiting time targets for A&E and hospital operations, while balancing the budget – as ‘mission impossible’.
Hopson said: ‘NHS trusts will strain every sinew to deliver the commitments made for the health service. But we now have a body of evidence showing that, with resources available, the NHS can no longer deliver what the NHS constitution requires of it. We fear that patient safety is increasingly at risk.’
The analysis carried out by NHS Providers predicts that the numbers waiting in A&E longer than the four-hour target will increase by 40% next year to 1.8m, while the numbers waiting beyond the 18-week target for routine treatments, such as knee and hip operations, will go up by 150% to around 100,000.
Fewer than one in 10 nurses polled by yesterday’s Sunday Mirror/Nursing Standard survey said they were always able to deliver adequate care. In the poll of 3,000 nurses, 81 per cent said patients are receiving a worse standard of care in the NHS now than five years ago. More than half said they are looking to quit the NHS, at a time when there are already more than 20,000 vacancies.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘This is a sombre snapshot of the state of the Health Service, direct from the staff keeping it afloat. As pressures rise to new and extreme heights, the government is digging a deep, dark hole for our NHS.’
More results from the poll, carried out with the Nursing Standard magazine, show:
• 53% of nurses say they have witnessed services being rationed that were freely available five years ago;
• 45% of nurses say they ‘sometimes’ have time to deliver safe patient care, 4% say they ‘never’ have time, 42% do ‘most of the time’ and only eight per cent ‘always’ do;
• 83% of nurses feel there aren’t enough staff to provide safe levels of care;
• 56% feel under pressure to save money in the way they work every day.
Davies added: ‘We know that the right staffing levels are needed for patient safety, yet here we see understaffing is fast becoming the norm. Safety should be the bare minimum for all patients, not just the lucky few.’
• Commenting on Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showing the risk of suicide among female nurses was 23% above the national average, the RCN’s Davies said: ‘These figures are a cause of great concern to the nursing profession. Every life lost is heart-breaking for their friends, family and colleagues. It is never inevitable and we must all redouble our efforts to support nursing staff. The government and all NHS bodies must take a detailed look at why female nurses are much more likely to take their lives than male counterparts, other health professionals or the wider public.’
She added that RCN members have repeatedly said mental health issues are disregarded in the workplace, and urged employers to implement the RCN’s Healthy Workplace, Healthy You toolkit. Davies said: ‘We are confident that there has been a significant decrease in the wellbeing of the nursing profession and workplace.
‘Nursing staff experience high levels of stress, a shortage of colleagues and long working hours. The RCN’s toolkit promotes better environments and self-care within the workforce and it is time for NHS organisations to implement it.’