Service "broadly on track" to deliver ambitious savings target
The NHS is coping well with the "unprecedented" financial challenge facing it, but must avoid making "blanket bans or arbitrary restrictions on access to services", according to the latest report on its progress.
The Quarter 1 report, which sets out NHS quality and financial performance between April and June 2011, shows the NHS is managing to meet most of the main standards of care while avoiding going into debt.
The NHS needs to save up to £20bn by 2015 in order to meet the pressures on its resources caused by an ageing population and the rising cost of care, without the increases in funding to which it has become accustomed. The report indicates that primary care trusts (PCTs) estimate they can achieve £5.9bn of savings this financial year, which means the service is "broadly" on track to meet the £20bn target.
The report suggests that, at a national level, this is being achieved without having a visible impact on access to care. The NHS continues to treat more than 90% of patients within 18 weeks and more than 95% of outpatients.
MRSA infections were 25% lower than during the same quarter last year with C.difficile infections 17% lower and far fewer patients are staying in mixed-sex accommodation.
Waiting time standards for cancer services have been maintained.
However, there is significant variation in access to services across the country. In some hospitals the percentage of patients admitted within 18 weeks is as low as 60.5% (Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust).
Research conducted outside the service has also highlighted instances of PCTs restricting access to treatments deemed to be of "low clinical value" and the Quarter 1 report notes that "signs that activity is being contained provide only a very early indicator of progress, and we must continue to ensure that referral management processes are clinical justified and that there are no blanket bans or arbitrary restrictions on access to services".
It indicates that one of the strategies adopted to deliver the £20bn savings target will be a "a smaller but more specialised acute sector with lower unit costs" - indicating that hospitals will be closed in the coming years.
The five hospital trusts performing worst against the 18 week target are: Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Kingston Hospital NHS Trust and East Cheshire NHS Trust.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the Government was "absolutely clear" that delivering savings would not mean cutting services.
"This means getting better value for every pound spent in the NHS so that it can continue to improve and deliver services for patients every day,” he said.