Whole service response needed to current pressures

by Paul Briddock

10 February 2017

This week, the NHS has dominated the media and we’ve been closely following the BBC NHS Health Check which has delved further into the issues surrounding the health sector. 

Despite continued coverage about the current challenges the NHS is facing, it’s been useful to see a detailed account from the BBC examining a variety of topics, from ‘Inside the A&E’ through to social care services. It’s important to inform the public of the issues facing the NHS, however, an understanding of the wider health sector is essential to fully grasp why the NHS is facing these challenges and what can be done about them. We welcome this week’s BBC’s exploration into the UK’s health system.    
Nick Triggle’s article, ‘Ten charts that show why the NHS is in trouble’ highlights the background and context of the financial pressures the system is facing. If the public and those working in the sector read one article this week, this should be it. This explores factors such as how much funding the NHS receives, standards and targets for patient care, and the pressures of an aging population. Other coverage also examines the problems the social care system is facing, such as an estimated £2.6bn funding gap by 2020, and the knock-on impact this has on the health sector. Reports also reference the recent NHS Improvement Q2 figures which found 34.8% of delayed transfers of care are up compared with the same quarter last year. 

The media have also explored the progress of the government’s £5.3bn Better Care Fund, which was designed to improve the working relationship between health and social care services. Although the fund has made a positive contribution to the integration of services over the year, we welcome any additional support to help streamline the process. However, the social care issue is vast and more is needed to be done in order to make a meaningful impact. 

Expenditure from foreign patients has been a sticking point in the media for several weeks. Charges to overseas patients is an aspect of the health system that needs to be considered, but addressing these costs is not a quick fix to the NHS crisis. It’s important the public understands the expenses of treating overseas patients within the larger context. Cost efficiencies in this area are welcome and necessary, but they are unlikely to make a large impression on the overall £22bn funding gap that the NHS needs to bridge, so in context, a real representation of this in the media is needed. 

The NHS is under severe financial pressure and directors of finance have seen this coming for a while. However, it is not just a finance issue that finance people can rectify alone – the whole service needs to work together, under strong leadership, to transform the current situation. It’s important the media refrain from scare-mongering, but instead provide a reality check on the pressures the NHS is under and expected to deliver against. 

In overall terms, the media coverage that the NHS has received this week has largely been a true representation of the challenges the NHS is facing and is very much welcomed in making the public aware of these complex issues.