Hospitals ‘will discharge patients early and delay operations to save £20bn’

Posted on September 28, 2009. Filed under: News stories | Tags: |

London Evening Standard | Anna Davis, Health Reporter | 28 September 2009

Patients will be discharged early and operations could be delayed as the NHS struggles to cope with huge funding cuts, experts warned today.

Doctors and nurses could face pay cuts, routine appointments could be scrapped and administration work shared between hospitals after Health Secretary Andy Burnham admitted the NHS needed to save up to £20 billion.

Foundation hospitals, which manage their own finances, have been told they have not planned well enough to cope with the recession, and £500 million that would fund new community hospitals is in doubt.

Hospitals have already started sharing back-office work to save money, and the first “super trust” made up of three hospitals has been created in south London.

Nigel Edwards, policy director of the NHS Confederation, the body of organisations that make up the health service, said the cutbacks were unprecedented. “This is uncharted territory and we are exploring new ways of dealing with it. It is a challenge on a scale very few systems have had to face.” He said the worst case scenario would be for the NHS to shut services and delay operations such as knee, cataract and hip surgery until patients’ conditions deteriorated.

Operations were delayed by up to four months when the NHS had a cash crisis in 2005. In some areas, NHS managers told hospitals to postpone surgery for as long as possible. In Harrow it was reported that the PCT asked hospitals to do the “minimum” to meet targets.

The Government could save £500 million by reducing the average length of a stay in hospital, according to an NHS Confederation report.

Mr Edwards said hospitals could also save money by scrapping routine appointments for people with long-term conditions, such as chronic obstructive airway disease.

He suggested patients should only see a doctor when they were actually feeling ill and that clinics could be set up where certain conditions could be dealt with in one day.

London is moving towards this system with the introduction of polyclinics, which are designed to reduce the number of times patients have to visit hospitals. The capital’s eighth polyclinic opened in Haringey on Friday. It houses traditionally hospital-based services such as blood tests, out-patient appointments, minor surgery, ultrasound and physiotherapy.

Mr Edwards warned that if these initial changes did not save enough money, the Government could decide to slash doctors’ pay or cut jobs.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “We do not believe the right answer to improving the NHS is blanket cuts across the NHS workforce. The NHS is in a very healthy position regarding recruitment and retention, and in some areas such as maternity services we need more clinicians not fewer.”


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