KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — Parts of the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Health Service (NHS) are in deep financial instability, according to an audit, amid longer wait times and increased patient numbers.
The Guardian reported that the NHS — the collective term for the four separate and independent public health care providers in the UK — is building up levels of debt that they are unlikely to repay.
The UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) reportedly said that NHS provider trusts reported a combined deficit of £827 million and clinical commissioning groups a £150 million deficit in the financial year ending 31 March 2019.
NHS trusts had built up debts totalling £10.9 billion as of March last year, the report said, while extra money provided by the government to stabilise the finances of the individual NHS bodies had not been “fully effective”.
The country’s auditors also said that trusts in financial difficulty were increasingly reliant on short-term loans from the UK Department of Health and Social Care, which were, in effect, being treated as income.
NAO reports sighted by The Guardian showed that patient waiting times worsened, and more people waiting for treatment increased as well, failing to achieve “the fundamental transformation in services and finance regime needed to meet rising demand”.
One NAO report that looked at the finances of the NHS as a whole and the financial performance of the four NHS organisations — the National Health Service in England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, and Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland — showed that short-term fixes made some parts of the NHS seriously financially unstable.
“Trusts are becoming increasingly reliant on short-term measures, including one-off savings – rather than more permanent year-on-year savings – to meet yearly financial targets,” the NAO report stated.
The Guardian report also quoted Meg Hillier, chair of the country’s public accounts committee, as saying that the NAO reports show that the NHS was “addicted to unacceptable short-term fixes” to cover long-standing problems.
“Hospitals have built up loans they’ll never repay, workforce shortages continue, and waiting times are getting longer,” she reportedly said.
“There is no long-term plan for social care in sight, but what is clear is the lack of investment in public health, equipment, and buildings.”
It also quoted Gareth Davies, the NAO’s head, as saying that the short-term fixes introduced to manage the NHS’s finances were not sustainable, and that there is a slim chance of the loans being repaid.
“This is not a sustainable way to run public bodies,” he said.