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Dickson: Quality of care more important issue than provider

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The chief executive of the NHS Confederation has stressed the need to focus on quality of care rather than what type of organisation is providing it.

His comments come as analysis finds almost half of the £2bn of additional funding for the NHS in 2015/16 was spent on non-NHS providers and supporting the social care system.

The research, conducted by the Health Foundation, also suggests that a growing share of planned care is being delivered by non-NHS providers and that demand for care is rising faster than NHS provider income.

“The question of who provides the care is not the issue – what matters is the quality of that care and its value for money,” NHS Confederation chief executive, Niall Dickson, said on Monday (27 March).

The NHS Partners Network’s Dr Howard Freeman added that “Patients have the legal right to choose whether they receive NHS treatment in an NHS hospital or in the independent sector, allowing many to receive care more quickly.”

The Health Foundation’s report, A year of plenty? analyses the finances of NHS providers and the consultant productivity of acute NHS hospitals.

Key findings include:
  • NHS hospitals, mental health, community and ambulance trusts received relatively little of the £2bn real terms uplift to the NHS commissioning budget last year. NHS providers' operating income rose by just £0.8bn in real terms, while their costs rose by £2.4bn.
  • In the last six years the number of NHS consultants increased by over 20 per cent compared to a 1 per cent increase in the number of nurses. But the NHS is not using the skills of its consultant workforce well.
  • Ineffective use of staff means the productivity challenge set in the Five Year Forward View is becoming increasingly difficult. Consultant productivity across 150 NHS acute hospitals fell by an average of 2.3 per cent a year between 2009/10 and 2015/16.
  • Falling consultant productivity doesn't mean consultants aren't working hard – consultants must be supported by strong teams within well-organised systems. 
Niall Dickson warned that though the last couple of years have been tough, “even harder times lie ahead”.

“The limited additional extra funding in recent years was supposed to bring the system back into balance and change the way services are organised – the reality is that there is still a long way to go on both fronts.”

The report also found that despite the government making mental health a priority, planned spending on adult mental health for 2016/17 is £20.8m short of the additional funding needed to meet the parity of esteem target for 2016/17.   

“This shortfall threatens to undermine the incredible efforts of mental health trusts and their staff, who are keeping patients safe and transforming services in the face of increasing pressures” Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network remarked.

Find out more

Access the NHS Confederation, Mental Health Network and NHS Partners Network press releases from the media centre.

Download A year of plenty? from the Health Foundation website.

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