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£7bn predicted funding gap is likely an ‘underestimate’, says NHS Confederation

by Jess Hacker
5 July 2021

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A 2020 prediction that £7bn of additional funding was needed to support primary care and the NHS is ‘likely an underestimate’, the NHS Confederation has said.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak published 2 July  the Confederation said that ‘bureaucratic hurdles’ were hindering the NHS’ ability to access funding and ‘ramp up’ elective care capacity.

It drew attention to the Health Foundation’s November 2020 Spending Review, which estimated that £7 billion of additional funding was needed to tackle the elective backlog, to support primary care in managing increased patient activity and to help ‘ease other pressures’ following the pandemic.

‘Given the worsening situation, this is likely an underestimate of the challenge we collectively face,’ NHS Confederation said.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation and who signed the letter, added that 5.1 million people are now waiting for routine hospital care, with ‘significant investment’ and innovation needed to reduce the figure.

Access to funding too bureaucratic

In order to increase elective care capacity, NHS leaders need quicker access to capital funding, the Confederation said.

Services will need to invest in their facilities to ensure they are able to improve patient care while remaining Covid secure, it said, particularly as they prepare for an anticipated flu surge this winter.

‘But we are consistently hearing from trust leaders that they are not able to access the capital funding they need or that, if they are, it takes too long to receive, with too many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome,’ it said.

NHS Confederation called for clear guidance from NHS England, backed by the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care, on how to secure the funding.

Financial security in second half

The letter called on Mr Sunak to provide financial security for the second half of the financial year.

It said that providers may be forced to either take on more staff at financial risk, or stay within their budget and face a ‘spiralling’ waiting list.

‘This could also create serious bottlenecks to joined-up patient care and the Discharge to Assess programme, which has proved highly effective in safely discharging patients into the community,’ it added.

Hospitals are unable to safely discharge patients into other settings like care homes effectively, with funding due to run out in October.

Mr Taylor said that that extra investment and easier access would help services get more patients ‘through its doors’.

‘But crucially to be able to do this effectively the bureaucratic barriers preventing healthcare leaders from quickly securing existing funding must be removed,’ he warned.

‘Healthcare leaders also desperately require clarity on how much money they will have to spend after the summer, without it they are being placed in a truly impossible position.’

The NHS Confederation had previously suggested ‘system-wide waiting lists’ could improve discussions between primary and secondary care for prioritising elective care treatment.