Ministers and NHS England disagreeing on targets

The Guardian has reported that NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens is fighting against government demands for specific improvements linked to the recent £20.5 billion investment in the service.

The paper discusses major disagreements and increasing tensions between NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Treasury about how much the forthcoming NHS long-term plan can promise to boost care. Sources claim the friction emerged during ‘detailed horsetrading’ between the two sides amid sharp differences of opinion over the extent of the document’s ambitions, with Stevens attempting to block explicit guarantees the government wants to include, mainly reassuring voters that the service will improve dramatically over the next five years thanks to the extra money.

This is likely to be specific annual improvements it will promise to make every year between 2019-20 and 2023-24 in its most challenging areas, including how close in percentage terms the NHS will get every year to meeting key waiting time targets covering A&E care, cancer treatment and planned operations, and also by how much poor finances will be turned round.

However, Stevens, who deems the targets as unrealistic anyway, has recently warned that the chronic lack of staff in the NHS – short of 103,000 doctors, nurses and other personnel – will also make it hard to drive the measurable progress they are seeking.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS long-term plan is a vital opportunity to improve patient care and change the way we deliver services to the public. But we should not underestimate how difficult it will be to recover performance on waiting times and to move NHS trusts and other organisations back into the black. We must be realistic about what is possible within the extra £20 billion – the last thing we need is to set local services up to fail. And, above all, we will need a plan for securing the staff we need to respond to changing healthcare needs.”

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