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NHS Providers has written a letter to Jeremy Hunt to warn that the health service can no longer deliver what is required of it within current funding restrictions.
The body, which represents 98 per cent of hospital, mental health, community and ambulance service trusts in England, stressed that the pressures facing front-line health and care services this winter are a watershed moment for the NHS and that there are not enough beds and staff to ensure the expected standards of care and safety remain.
Amid concerns over a flu outbreak, the organisation is arguing that urgent decisions on long term funding for health and social care must be taken which will allow the NHS to either sustainably deliver all that is required of it under its constitutional standards or change them.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “The NHS is at a watershed moment. Despite planning for winter more thoroughly and extensively than before, it hasn’t been sufficient. Rising numbers of flu cases and more respiratory illness have placed intolerable pressures on staff. The NHS is no longer able to deliver the constitutional standards to which it is committed. We need to be realistic about what we can provide on the funding available. If we continue to run the NHS at close to 100 per cent capacity, day in day out, permanently in the red zone, it’s not surprising that the service can’t cope when we get a high, but entirely predictable, spike in demand.
“We need a full and frank review of how well the NHS handled additional winter pressures. Beyond that, we have reached the point where we can no longer delay key decisions on the long term funding of health and social care. A government-led process must draw upon the high-quality work on future health and care spending, including the Institute of Fiscal Studies, Office for Budget Responsibility, the Barker Commission for The King’s Fund on how to pool health and care funding, and several all party parliamentary committees which have looked at what is needed to create a sustainable NHS.
“Failure to act now will lead to targets moving further out of reach. This would harm the quality of care, causing delays and distress for patients and weakening staff morale. It could also undermine public faith in the NHS. There is so much at stake. We can fix this, but there must be no more delay. The ball is now firmly in the government’s court."