Why do the NHS savings matter?


It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security about NHS efficiency savings.

The doors to GP surgeries and hospitals remain open and, come what may, patients always seem to get treated - eventually.

In fact, the very term itself sounds rather innocuous.

But make no mistake: how the NHS fares in the next few years in achieving its £20bn target will go a long way to determining what sort of health service the country has in the future.

If it does not achieve what it needs to it will be patients who suffer.

The £20bn figure equates to a saving of about 4% a year until 2015. That is unprecedented for a health system.

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Despite the NAO [National Audit Office] calling it the first year of the savings, the health service has still had plenty of time to prepare for the savings drive”

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If the NHS does not become more productive it will simply have to cut what it does to cope with the rising demand from factors such as the ageing population and obesity.

And what is worrying about the National Audit Office (NAO) report - despite the praise for the good progress that has been made to date - is that there are signs this could be starting to happen.

The watchdog found evidence of rationing in areas such as cataract surgery. The tactic, which involves making patients wait until their eyesight deteriorates further before they get treatment, makes a huge difference to an individual's quality of life.

As does the trend - noticed by orthopaedic surgeons - of leaving patients in pain for longer before they are entitled to hip or knee replacements.

Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge - like many monitoring what is happening - is worried about what lies ahead.

Responding to the NAO report, she urged the Department of Health to be careful that the efficiency drive did not lead to the NHS "shutting the door" on patients.

But what makes the watchdog's findings even more startling is that despite the NAO calling it the first year of the savings, the health service has still had plenty of time to prepare for the savings drive.

NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson first proposed the target three years ago and told the NHS to start looking for them in 2010-11 - the last year in which it got a significant increase in its budget.

That is why inside the health service the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I'm all for efficiency and ensuring value for money e.g a rationalisation of purchasing would save millions per year

    What I am against is the constant interference of the Govt using the NHS as a political football.

    They need to wake up to the fact that WE elected them to improve OUR society (inc healthcare) and NOT plunge us into these times of "austerity". They wont listen though

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    11.Cave Canem
    "The government exists to serve the public good, not private enterprise"

    Comment from a retired GP in the family who worked pre & post NHS. The pre NHS hospital he worked in had less managers & admin staff than you have fingers on 1 hand. So a thought to ponder is why the state run Hospital & NHS does require so much none clinical staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    We collectively pool our money via the state, so that the state can provide services that benefit the whole.
    The government is inflicting massive cuts on all our services, NHS, Police, Fire Brigade, Coast Guard, etc - and giving money to pro-privatisation think tanks and big corporations instead.
    The government exists to serve the public good, not private enterprise - they are failing dismally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    GPs now either write a prescription or make a referral. There are always many staff milling around in hospitals doing seemingly little. With efficiencies they could treat 50% more people if it was stopped being run for the benefit of its staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    NB It's not the NHS - it's the NIS (National Illness Service)

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The NHS is run far more efficiently than the USA's private health. However there are lots of places where money is being wasted.

    The prime issue seems to be with superfluous managers and people with non-jobs.

    However when you ask these managers who control the purse strings to find savings, remarkably they never find them by getting rid of superfluous managers and their friends with non-jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    NHS Would be better off if this goverment Stopped giving all our money away to Other countries, & Putting it where itr belongs "HERE"

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I'm all in for efficiency. But when you ask management to find cistern savings they immediately look at the biggest cost, staff wages.
    So the NHS will be losing more front line staff.
    How about asking front line staff how to streamline their jobs.
    Lose the overpopulated managers who are in charge of spending the money they get, which they generally waste on bad ideas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The NHS like the rest of the public sector, will have to become a lot more efficient and careful in spending OUR money.
    Our country was brought close to bankruptcy by the last incompetent 'government' and money is tight and huge amounts of OUR money is being used to pay off the debt they ran up.
    The NHS will have to reform and many of the reforms are required and ideologically challenging to some

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The NHS will continue to struggle to cope until people realise it is not funded by a bottomless money pit. Stop going to the GP demanding antibiotics for every niggle or sniffle. Stop calling 999 for stupid reasons. Take some responsibility for your own health. Eat more healthily and exercise more. Prevention not cure.
    We might then have money to concentrate on people with serious health issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Efficiency = good.

    Selling off national assets like the NHS to private interests = very bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    As a group with Ben Goldacre at http://prescribinganalytics.com/ have shown if the NHS stopped using expensive brand name drugs for common conditions we could save a vast amount of money (£250M pounds a year on statins alone or just under 5% of the needed savings from one change).
    There are huge savings to be made in procurement but it is so fragmented it is almost impossible to get a hand on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I have no idea if the NHS will be better or worse, at the moment I have resorted to writing to my Dr's Surgery to obtain an appointment, as when I visit they tell me there are no appointments as they are booked up for 2 or 3 weeks or longer, but if I telephone when they open in the morning I may get an appointment.
    I have been trying to see a Dr for 3 weeks, no wonder A&E is under pressure?


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