Jeremy Hunt’s austerity measures have started to bite – despite the efforts of NHS staff

Ambulance delays and long waiting times are on the rise


Austerity was slow to impact healthcare quality thanks to the impressive efforts of NHS staff, a new report suggests. But ongoing pressures have left the service more vulnerable to serious lapses.

Lengthening waiting times and slower ambulance response are highlighted as areas for concern in the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation’s QualityWatch report.

Today, patients wait on average a week longer to see a consultant than they did in 2012 while, in September 2016, nearly four in ten ambulances took longer than eight minutes to reach life-threatening emergencies. Efforts to tackle healthcare-related infections have also slowed down, presenting a risk to patient safety. And in mental healthcare, patient satisfaction is falling.

‘The fact that the financial squeeze didn’t immediately affect the quality of patient care reflects the hard work and goodwill of NHS staff,’ commented Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust.

“But slowing improvement in some areas of quality, combined with longer waiting times and ongoing austerity suggests the NHS is heading for serious problems. It seems likely that a system under such immense pressure will be unable, at some point, in some services, to provide care to the standards that patients and staff alike expect.”

Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, obliquely the government’s focus on efficiency in the NHS, pointing out that ‘ideas and innovative thinking’ are ‘in ample supply within the health service, but that ‘the NHS needs a chance to deliver them through intelligent investment, support and time.’

Since 2010, the NHS has been subjected to its tightest funding settlement in decades, championed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Experts in the health and social care sector were shocked that last month’s autumn statement made no additional provision for the NHS, despite record deficits and a growing crisis in social care provision.

With standards already falling, funding gaps yawning and no prospect of increased government support, the lead author of today’s report, Dr Liz Fisher, says that ‘the next twelve months will prove a crucial test for the resilience of the health service.’

See also: An earmarked tax for the NHS and social care? Philip Hammond should consider it

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