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Bleak future for recession-hit NHS, former health secretaries warn

By Steve Nowottny

PCTs will face ‘difficult challenges' as the NHS comes to terms with reduced funding growth as a result of the recession, former health secretary Patricia Hewitt warned this week.

Speaking at an NHS Confederation economics summit, Ms Hewitt said that the NHS would face tough choices thanks to the mounting financial crisis.

‘We are already in a serious downturn and it is likely to get very difficult in the New Year,' she said.

‘That will add to the pressure of an ageing population, lifestyle diseases and the fact that improvements in medical technology mean that the health service can treat many more diseases than in the past.'

‘A recession will only add to those problems – not only because of the effect it will have on funding but also because of the harm it can do to health with issues like raised stress. So by 2010-11 there will not only be increased demand but also demanding targets for increasing efficiency against the background of slowing growth.'

And another former health secretary, Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell, gave an even bleaker assessment, warning the NHS faced ‘economic stress, rising health demands and extremely tight cash budgets.'

‘It is a profound mistake to imagine that after a few years rough passage we will re-emerge back into the Elysian Fields that we have previously enjoyed,' he said.

‘It is clear that expectations on the healthcare system have risen and with it the expectation that clinicians can deliver almost continual improvements in health.'

Former health secretaries Patricia Hewitt and Stephen Dorrell have painted a bleak picture for the NHS

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