A lack of clarity over adult social care funding presents a ‘significant risk’ to the NHS’s ability to deliver its long-term plan, a group of MPs has concluded.
The MPs fear that national bodies, including the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement, have painted an overly positive picture of the future financial sustainability of the health service.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) accused them of lacking detail on delivery of the plan and underestimating the challenges the NHS faces.
In June, the prime minister announced a long-term funding settlement for the health service, which will see NHS England’s budget rise by an extra £20.5bn by 2023/24, equating to an average annual real-terms increase of 3.4%.
However, as reported in January areas not covered by the settlement include funding for capital investment, adult social care, and training.
The PAC report, NHS financial sustainability: progress review, said: ‘We are particularly concerned about the impact on local authorities, many of which have had to reduce spend on social care, despite rising demand, because of budget cuts.’
The 25-page document said the financial health of the NHS was getting worse, due to increased loans, raids on capital budgets, and the growth in waiting lists and slippage in waiting times.
It said despite the plan presenting an opportunity to bring back stability to the health system, there were about 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. ‘Should the NHS continue to lose staff at the current rate, or fail to attract enough employees from overseas, then the situation will rapidly reach crisis point,’ the report said.
PAC chair Meg Hillier MP said ‘staff shortages are a clear threat’ to the delivery of the plan and that by July the committee expects to see evidence that the government has a strategy to address them.
She added: ‘We remain concerned about the absence of new funding for vital areas of work. Investment in capital, adult social care, prevention initiatives and training will be critical.’
‘If the long-term plan is to be more than just an aspiration then government must engage fully with the detail and ensure necessary resources are directed to the right places.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Putting the NHS back onto a sustainable financial footing is a key priority of the Long Term Plan and our historic five-year funding settlement of an extra £33.9 billion a year by 2023/24 gives the health service the certainty it needs to deliver world-class care for patients.
‘There are tens of thousands more doctors and nurses on our wards than in 2010 and thanks to their dedication, thousands of patients get excellent, safe care every day. The upcoming Workforce Implementation Plan will set out how we can ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for future years.’