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NHS waiting times set to worsen amid underfunding, think-tanks warn

The Government’s ‘unrealistic’ ambition of making £22bn in efficiency savings by 2020/21 may lead to longer NHS waiting times, three leading think-tanks have warned.

A report published jointly by the Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust ahead of the Autumn Statement, says the NHS has exhausted the ‘easier options’ for making savings and is now ‘struggling to deliver further improvements at a scale and pace required’.

The report said that the Department of Health’s real-term budget increase of just over £4bn between 2015/16 and 2020/21 ‘is not enough to maintain standards of NHS care, meet rising demand from patients and deliver the transformation in services outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View’.

It added: ‘The pressures on the NHS will peak in 2018/19 and 2019/20, when there is almost no planned growth in real-terms funding.

‘While there is significant scope for productivity improvements in the NHS, the huge pressures now being felt right across the health and care system mean that the pace of change required to deliver £22 billion of savings by 2020/21 is unrealistic.’

John Appleby, director of research and chief economist at the Nuffield Trust said it is ‘very hard’ to see how the sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), designed to make the £22bn savings, ‘will meet the 4 or 5% improvements in productivity each year’.

He said: ‘If the NHS doesn’t ameliorate the money situation our bet is that waiting times would get worse.’