Is the NHS overspending or underspending, and what are the implications?

Since the launch of the NHS in 1948, it has remained a free service for the use and benefit of all UK residents. Funded purely by taxation, its yearly budget has long been a bone of contention and is frequently under examination.

The budget for the NHS in England for 2015/16 is £116.4 billion – a figure that requires extensive management and one that is frequently overspent. During the previous financial year, trusts collectively amounted debts in the region of £2.4b billion – a record deficit. This was partly due to an increase in the number of hospital staff employed, by 18,000 people, or 1.6%. Foundation trusts spent an extra £1.2bn alone, which was around £660 more than had been planned for.

With such a huge deficit, the NHS budget is under the microscope like never before, and the need to reduce this deficit it well documented.

The King’s Fund think tank has stated that there will be no choice but to relax waiting time targets and cut staffing levels if the government wants to bring NHS finances back under control and there are major initiatives being set by the NHS presently to control spending, but they also warn that this could compromise patient care. Senior policy advisor, Helen McKenna, has publicly stated that;

“Politicians need to be honest with the public about what the NHS can offer with the funding allocated to it. It is no longer credible to argue that the NHS can continue to meet increasing demand for services, deliver current standards of care and stay within its budget. This is widely understood within the NHS and now needs to be debated with the public. There are no easy choices, but it would be disastrous to adopt a mindset that fails to acknowledge the serious state of the NHS in England today.”

Her point is clear – there is simply not enough budget available within the NHS for it to continue providing the level of care that we have all become accustomed to expect. Regulators have already insisted that efforts to try to control the rising costs are beginning to show an impact. Frustrations were also voiced though, that at a time when money is drying up, there are rising demands for healthcare, higher costs associated with it and problems with being able to discharge medically fit patients to a lack of suitable care outside of hospital.

It’s an ongoing challenge, and one that there is no easy answer to. The NHS has acknowledged that there are numerous factors that have led to the overspending, and combatting them is beyond the means of individual trusts. In this situation, problems will be better solved by uniting as an entire health and care system to reshape how services are delivered.