The UK Government has claimed it can make ‘efficiency savings’ of £20bn by 2015 and made nearly £6bn in 2011-2012. However the National Audit Office has been unable to verify the government’s figures, finding evidence only of £3.4bn. At least perhaps the good news is that healthcare has not yet been cut as badly as many feared.
The notion that any budget cuts represent ‘efficiency savings’ or that changes to the NHS will in fact increase efficiency is contentious.
It has proved notoriously difficult in the past to create efficiencies within the management and administration of the health service. The reality is that cuts are affecting front-line services. A whole raft of measures from waiting times in Accident and Emergency to delays in carrying out hip and knee replacements to levels of bed occupancy all show that the NHS is under strain.
Further there is a danger that cuts to one service increases costs elsewhere. A classic example is the waste caused by lack of facilities to care for the elderly and disabled in the community which leads to longer hospital admissions.
Contracting services from external providers is one of the ways the government wants to create savings and improve services. However we see an alarming number of claims for poor surgery where patients have been referred to private hospitals or surgeons under initiatives to reduce NHS waiting lists. Many assume that because conditions in private hospitals are so much nicer and waits shorter that they are necessarily getting better care. We also see Medical Negligence Claims where, with an increasingly complex system of referrals, people simply fall through the gaps and end up not being treated.
So are we seeing greater efficiency and better care? Despite the excellent care in many hospitals much of the evidence reinforces the impression of our Clinical Negligence Lawyers that the NHS is under the strain and that patients are suffering the results - longer waits, poorer management and avoidable medical accidents.
Paul Sankey is a Senior Clinical and Medical Negligence Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London.
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