The chaos seen during the NHS’s winter crisis is “a watershed moment” that must prompt the government to rethink how it treats the health service and give it tens of billions in extra funding, hospital chiefs have warned.
In a letter to Jeremy Hunt, the health and social care secretary, the body which represents hospitals urges him to ditch the Conservatives’ longstanding policy of giving the NHS only small budget increases.
NHS Providers claims that the policy, introduced as part of the coalition government’s implementation of austerity in 2010, is damaging patient care and has caused serious staffing problems and led to key targets being routinely missed.
Its challenge to ministers comes as the NHS struggles to navigate what many senior doctors and veteran health service bosses say is the most difficult winter it has faced for decades.
It comes a day after Hunt admitted to MPs that the NHS will need “significantly more funding” over the next decade in order to do its job. He was speaking for the first time since defying Theresa May’s attempt on Monday to move him from the health portfolio to become the business secretary by refusing to switch jobs. His gamble saw him emerge with an expanded brief which now includes social care.
NHS Providers, which represents most of the 240 NHS trusts in England, wants May to commit to increasing the NHS budget to £153bn by 2022/23 – almost £20bn more than the government plans. That is the sum the Office for Budget Responsibility said last year the NHS needed to keep up with the ageing population and other factors underlying a relentlessly growing need for care.
That £153bn would pay for the creation of 10,000 to 15,000 beds that hugely overcrowded hospitals desperately need to help them care properly for the growing numbers of very sick people arriving all year round, not just in winter.
Ministers need to start providing far larger sums than in recent years from the next budget, due in November, NHS Providers is demanding. “The government now needs to set out how it will create the sustainable, longterm health and care funding settlement you have rightly called for. Given the urgency of this task, substantial progress needs to be made by budget 2018.” NHS bosses want ministers to make clear their agreement to this within six to eight weeks, he adds.
In an opposition debate in the Commons on how the NHS is coping this winter Labour MPs lined up to give graphic accounts of how hospitals in their constituencies were reeling under the weight of the recent surge in demand for care caused by flu and cold weather.
Paula Sherriff, the MP for Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said patients were “being treated in cleaning cupboards” and there were “six patients in four-bed bays without lockers, curtains or call bells”.
In his letter Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, tells Hunt that May’s administration needs to follow the example set by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the early 2000s when they hugely increased the NHS’s budget to halt its sharp and visible deterioration.
Hopson also rejects May’s and Hunt’s repeated insistence that the NHS’s unprecedented preparations for this winter has helped it cope with extraordinary pressures, which have seen 75,000 patients stuck in the back of ambulances outside hospitals waiting to be admitted to A&E units.
The prime minister was ridiculed for telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr last Sunday that tens of thousands of operations that have been unexpectedly cancelled to help hospitals withstand intense winter pressure were “part of the plan” for this winter.
Hunt’s renamed Department of Health and Social Care said NHS funding had been the government’s key priority in the budget last November.
“The NHS was given top priority in the recent budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years, and was recently ranked as the best and safest healthcare system in the world,” a spokesperson said.
“We know there is a great deal of pressure in A&E departments and that flu rates are going up, and we are grateful to all NHS staff for their incredible work in challenging circumstances.”