NHS ‘On Track’ To Balance Books

The NHS is “on track” to break even within three months but jobs will be cut, the health secretary has said. Patricia Hewitt did not specify how many redundancies there would be, but said reports of 18,000 job losses this year was a “statistical projection”.

{mosimage}However, there would “some reduction” in jobs for administrators, although staff retiring or moving to other areas could account for some of the decrease. The NHS ended the financial year 2005-06 more than £500m overdrawn.

Ms Hewitt said she was “confident” of the NHS balancing its books. “I have made it clear that we do need to get the NHS back into financial balance by the end of March,” she said. “We are on track to do that and I am confident we will. The important thing is that over the last 10 years the NHS has taken on over 300,000 more staff,” Ms Hewitt said.

Labour’s 2005 manifesto promised that managerial overheads would be cut. However, she said the 18,000 figure was “not people losing their jobs”, but people retiring or moving jobs.

“What is happening is that as some people retire or move jobs those jobs aren’t being filled because as the NHS becomes more efficient… you can actually treat more people and treat them faster with fewer staff and fewer beds than you needed in the old days,” she told Sky News.

In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, she said transformation of the NHS was essential to ensure its survival. A series of radical reforms being pushed through by the government would deliver faster, more effective care, she said. Ms Hewitt said she did not believe the NHS was “on the critical list”, despite recent reports of staff shortfalls.

The service will be short of 14,000 nurses and 2,300 doctors by the end of the decade, some reports have warned.

In the interview, Ms Hewitt insisted she would not be forced to resign after promising to quit if the NHS had not broken even by March. She said: “The NHS has been saved, but it still needs to be transformed to ensure that it will survive for another generation.”

Surgeons At Work

Reports suggest the NHS may be short of 2,300 doctors in a decade. The predictions of a shortfall in NHS staff were reported in the Health Service Journal last week. It was quoting a leaked Department of Health paper which said that there would be a shortage of GPs and nurses in four years, but the NHS would have to shed hospital doctors.

Ms Hewitt’s comments come as a think tank estimated that keeping NHS patients in hospital too long takes up the equivalent of 13,000 beds a year and costs £1bn.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the bed space and money could be saved if more care was provided outside hospital.

Ms Hewitt acknowledged that efficiency could be improved. She said: “The NHS is treating more people more quickly than ever before, but there are still parts of the system that can and should be far more efficient in speeding up the patient journey.”