NHS 'on high alert during change'

Surgical operation Ministers maintain the NHS is performing well despite the pressures

The NHS in England is on "high alert" to make sure there are no failings as it gears up for the biggest change in its history, the head of the NHS says.

In an interview with the BBC, Sir David Nicholson said the coming months were "significant".

The health service is currently busy getting ready for the government's reforms to go live in April.

Sir David said he was determined to make sure care did not suffer during the changes and bedding-in process.

Under the reforms, GP-led bodies, called clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), will take charge of much of the NHS budget, replacing primary care trusts (PCTs) which will be scrapped.

Sir David said: "I would say the NHS is on high alert in relation to the potential for quality problems as we go through the transition."

Productivity drive

Sir David also warned the health service not to take its eye off the bigger picture.

The NHS is at the start of a savings drive - it has been told to save £20bn by 2015 through becoming more productive.

Sir David said the NHS had "started well" but more change was needed.

Start Quote

There are signs that future years will be harder”

End Quote John Appleby King's Fund

His comments come as fresh fears have been raised that cuts will have to be made to the front-line of the NHS, if it is to cope.

The government promised to protect the health service, but research by the King's Fund, based on interviews with 45 NHS finance chiefs, raises doubts.

The majority said they were currently managing to make savings without harming care.

But the think-tank said 19 expected care to get worse over the next few years, and that 2013 could mark the turning point, with only eight believing it would get better.

Some 27 of the managers who took part in the online questionnaire also said there was now a high, or very high, risk that NHS would not meet its £20bn target.

Increased demand

Meanwhile, a BBC survey of 1,005 people suggested 60% believed services would have to be cut.

The poll, carried out by ComRes, asked members of the public in England a series of questions about the NHS.

Some 61% agreed that they expected the NHS would have to stop providing some treatments and services in the future due to rising costs and increasing demands.

Nearly three-quarters also said they did not trust the government with the health service.

Prof John Appleby, chief economist at the King's Fund, said: "There are signs that future years will be harder.

"The end of the public sector pay freeze next April may add to financial pressure and increase the strain on services.

"The difficulty will be finding ways to absorb these costs without compromising the quality of care for patients."

But health minister Lord Howe maintained the NHS was "on track" to achieve its savings target.

He said £5.8bn was saved last year, while performance remained good.

"Waiting times have been kept low, infections have been reduced, there are more doctors, more diagnostic tests and more planned operations," he added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    So this information is from 45 NHS Finance Chiefs earning an average of £150,000 a year.
    I have an idea how the NHS could save £6.75 Million, it would however mean 45 people becoming unemployed. But think how many Matrons and Nurses £6.75 million would supply the NHS?
    Food for thought

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Let's face it, the government wants to run the NHS into the ground and replace it with a privatised model. It has been their ambition for a long time. They will reduce the service to try to turn the public against the NHS and in favour of private insurance. Don't blame the NHS, blame the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The tories want the NHS - they want it privatised - they dont use it but can abuse it by cash starving it and putting the fear about that its not working.Then they will pounce and like gas and electric you wil be left in the cold - but this time if you cant pay - YOU DIE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Of course it will get worse. That's the plan. Then more hospitals will need to be "rescued" by private companies and more "reforms" will be introduced. This government doesn't believe in the NHS and see the health service only as a fantastic business opportunity for their supporters. The NHS has to be destroyed so private businesses can benefit. All the rest is just propaganda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I once worked in a supplies department and I remember a plastic syringe holder costing 720 quid. 700 odd for a syringe holder for crying out loud. They could have gone down the pound store and used a sterilised spoon holder, and this was 12 years ago!!!
    We`ve all been ripped off by pharmacetical companies for years now.
    Anyone read the book Bad Pharma?


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