The UK’s public National Health Service (NHS) is in dire straits, with all but seven of England’s 138 hospital trusts now in deficit, according to the BBC. The most recent figures also show that once ambulance, community and mental health services have been taken into account, the NHS trust has overspent to the tune of £2.26 billion ($3.25 billion). This is nearly three times the deficit for the whole of the period 2014-15, meaning that the NHS is now on course for one of it’s most monumental overspends in history.
One of the key causes of the crisis identified by the BBC is overspending on wages for outsourced agency staff and management consultants. A rising demand for NHS services was also in part to blame, said the article.
The BBC also reports that health experts are concerned that NHS performance is deteriorating at an “alarming rate” as a consequence of the crisis. A sentiment echoed by the UK’s Guardian newspaper in a recent article detailing the findings of a survey that reveals that NHS patients are now receiving poorer care due to the health system’s financial woes.
John Appleby, chief economist of the King’s Fund, said the NHS is facing “a huge financial challenge” and suggested the situation might turn out to be even graver than predicted:
[…] performance is deteriorating with key targets being missed with increasing regularity and increasing concerns being raised about the quality of patient care […] This is shaping up to be a make or break year for the NHS.
The British government has earmarked extra funds for the NHS over the coming years, with £3.8 billion ($5.47) set to be put in next year. But as the BBC points out, if these extra funds are immediately swallowed up by spiraling debts then the NHS could find itself permanently playing catch up, always one step behind. “These figures are beyond dire. A comprehensive national plan is urgently needed,” said Adam Roberts of think tank the Health Foundation.