Health services will be set for even greater financial restraints next year as a health minister admitted the NHS will ‘really be up against it’ in 2015/16.
Speaking at the NICE annual conference today in Birmingham, Earl Howe said this could nonetheless benefit the system in the long run as it would ‘force’ NHS managers and the workforce to stop wasting resources and improve quality and safety as a result.
Earl Howe said: ‘We’re facing a tough year financially in 14/15 – but in 15/16 I don’t want to disguise from anyone in this hall that we are going to be really up against it. In many ways that is good – it forces us to look at waste in the system, at unnecessary expense in the system, areas where quality and safety can go hand in hand with cost effectiveness.’
He added: ‘[There was a] very interesting visit that Jeremy Hunt made to America recently, looking at one their hospitals whose safety record has improved out of all recognition in the last few years, and their costs – this is what struck Jeremy – are 60% below those of their nearest rivals as a result of that safety agenda. And it shows what you can do by driving costs down in the system and improving care.’
Responding to questions, Earl Howe also said it was important for private providers to be as open to scrutiny as others – and claimed the Government was ‘neutral’ on whether competition should be used, which he said was up to commissioners.
He said: ‘The Government is neutral on whether there should be more or less independent sector involvement in health care but if commissioners decide they want to buy more care from the independent or voluntary sector then yes, rules should be the exactly the same on transparency so we can be aware of the outcomes they’re delivering.’
‘Competition should always be on the basis of quality and not price – so that’s another level on which the playing field should be equal.’
Earl Howe’s comments come after it was revealed NHS England had accrued a large surplus through savings on commissioning of primary care services while at the same time overspending on specialist services, which GP commissioning leads warned could be wasteful.