7-Day NHS ‘impossible’ under current financial strain

After Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Health established a link in 2015 between increased patient mortality rates and weekend-admissions, the Health Secretary set in motion plans to deliver a 7-day NHS that would seek to address this.

The ‘Weekend Effect’ as it has since been labelled, was first commented on by Blackwater Law medical negligence solicitors in 2014, when we commented on the findings of a study into surgical procedures and survival rates published in the British Medical Journal. Click here to read the ‘Possible increased risk of clinical negligence on certain days of the week’ article.

Now though, according to Chief Executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson, chronic underfunding has made the concept of a 7-day NHS an entirely unrealistic prospect, and under a government that seems more concerned with “pretend[ing] the gap doesn’t exist”, patients may be at risk of falling care standards. This, inevitably, increases the risk of clinical negligence faced by patients, and has many fearing they may need to rely on clinical negligence solicitors to seek recompense in an increasingly overstretched health system.

Figures examined by the BBC in the build-up to a September 2016 airing of the Andrew Marr programme indicate that the NHS is currently struggling under record waiting periods and delays in patient discharges. All this despite the government’s insistence that it has given NHS England a £10bn funding boost, and that patient care standards must be maintained as a result.

NHS Providers represents hospitals all across England, and now warns that unless significant additional funding is sourced quickly, it will have to introduce “draconian rationing” of treatment, particularly in reference to non-urgent surgery. The figures are indeed damning, as just three years ago only around 5% of England’s acute hospitals were run at a financial deficit, compared to a staggering 80% today. Mr Hopson summarised the seriousness of the situation in telling the BBC that the NHS was under the “greatest pressure that we’ve been for a generation”, and added:

“Jeremy Hunt and others have made a very strong case for seven-day services, but it seems to us it’s impossible on the current level of staff and the current money we have available.”

Hopson also tied the increasingly dire financial situation to systematic failures in the NHS’s governance – not management of individual trusts – intimating that frontline staff are already struggling to cope with current workloads under contemporary funding levels, and that without further investment NHS England simply could not continue to provide sufficient care standards under a 7-day rota. These comments will do little to quell the concerns of those that have suffered poor medical care themselves previously, or those of medical negligence solicitors who are acutely aware of the devastating impact poor medical care can have on patients and their families.

Hopson’s warnings come at a crucial time, with the Commons Health Select Committee considering the prospect of an inquiry into the state of the NHS. The wider financial context doesn’t look good either, with 50 English hospitals authorised by the government to miss key waiting times targets  in a bid to tackle severe financial difficulties. Our article ‘NHS trusts to be allowed to miss key waiting time targets’ discussed this issue shortly after it came to light.

Some hospitals are already discussing drastic measures, with the Vale of York Trust narrowly avoiding the implementation of plans to suspend non-urgent treatment for obese patients and smokers following an intervention by bosses.

Chief Executive at the think-tank The King’s Fund, Chris Ham, has weighed-in on the discussion, telling BBC reporters that the government needs to act swiftly to avoid a full-blown crisis, issuing the following statement:

“It is simply not realistic to expect hard-pressed staff to deliver new commitments like seven-day services while also meeting waiting time targets and reducing financial deficits.”

Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbot adds:

“Years of Tory underfunding of the NHS has made it is impossible to provide the right quality of service and meet performance targets…The government needs to properly fund the NHS if it is to function properly.”

Hopson now warns of a serious decline in care comparable to that of the 1990s under John Major’s government, and highlights a “full-blown crisis in social care” prompted by cuts to town hall budgets. Unless further investment is found – and quickly it seems – NHS patients across the country may be at risk of cuts to medical service standards and an increase in the incidence of medical negligence.

Jason Brady, medical negligence solicitor at Blackwater Law, commented:

“It is clear that some medical professionals can be under significant pressure to service the increasing medical needs of the public. There could be a case to suggest that it is not only the doctors and nurses that suffer as a result of Trusts’ financial difficulties. There needs to be a careful analysis of the effects that any financial decisions have on patients as the public should not be open to paying the human cost of such decisions should they lead to a lower standard of care being provided.”