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NHS is ‘super-tanker heading for an iceberg’, warns Farrar

NHS managers have warned that the health service resembles a ‘super-tanker heading for an iceberg', after a major survey highlighted growing fears about the impact of financial pressures on the quality of care.

NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said leaders were ‘deeply concerned' about the ‘storm clouds' gathering around the NHS, with 85% predicting financial pressures would increase over the next 12 months.

Speaking ahead of the NHS Confederation's annual conference in Manchester, which begins today, Mr Farrar said there had been a ‘chronic failure of political leadership to secure the public support' for long-term radical changes to healthcare services, and said it was crucial this was improved so that patient care was not put at risk.

An NHS Confederation survey of 252 chairs and chief executives of NHS trusts, published to coincide with the conference, reported ‘serious concern about the outlook for patient care', with 42% predicting quality would decrease in the next 12 months, and 5% predicting it would decrease significantly. 

The survey also revealed concern over whether the system would be ready for the April 2013 handover, with fewer than 40% of respondents confident CCGs would be ready to effectively discharge their roles next year.

Managers also reported that cuts to local authority funding were heaping pressure on the NHS, particularly in relating to delays to discharge, and demand for community services.

The survey found ‘strong consensus that radical long-term action for the NHS is necessary', with 77% calling for more integration, 63% suggesting an expansion in community care, and 28% going as far as to say whole hospitals should close.

But managers said this could only be achieved if the Government backed them in making tough decisions to on how to successfully reconfigure the NHS.

Mr Farrar said: ‘Despite huge efforts to maintain standards of patient care in the current financial year, healthcare leaders are deeply concerned about the storm clouds that are gathering around the NHS.'

‘Our survey shows that many NHS leaders see finances getting worse and that this is already having a growing impact on their patients. In response, they are cutting costs in the short-term but they know that much more radical solutions are the only answer in the long run.'

‘Frankly, without action on the way we provide health and social care, the NHS looks like a super-tanker heading for an iceberg. The danger is clearly in view and looming ever larger. We know what needs to happen. But are we going to be able to take the assertive action needed in time?'

He added: ‘NHS leaders surveyed are clearly worried about standards of care. They associate this with: the tight financial position; the even tighter financial position faced by local authorities; the distracting effect of the reforms;  the time that it will take the reforms to bed in; and the chronic failure of political  leadership to secure the public support for the changes they know are needed.

‘It is clear that what the NHS desperately needs is public support for planned change to services.

‘But politicians have consistently failed over many years at national and local level to put the long-term interests of their population's health above their short-term electoral interests.

‘The NHS will get on and do its absolute upmost to make things work for patients. But we do not have the luxury of time if we are going to make the right changes to services. Health and social care leaders must come together now and speak about these issues with one loud, strong voice.'