Britain's health service "facing funding crisis"

Wed Jun 10, 2009 5:44am EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's National Health Service (NHS) is facing the biggest financial and organizational challenge in its 60-year history, with a 15 billion pound ($25 billion) shortfall looming after 2011, a report said on Wednesday.

The NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, said recession and rising costs will squeeze the NHS budget by 15 billion pounds in the five years from 2011.

The two years leading up to 2011 would be "tough but manageable," its report said.

"In just under two years, the NHS will face the most severe constriction ever in its finances," it said. "Action is required now if the service is to remain true to its founding principles and continue to provide care free at the point of delivery."

The Confederation said funding shortages could lead to "across the board cuts," longer patient waiting lists, falling standards, and staff and patient dissatisfaction.

It added a cap on the budget for new drugs may have to be considered, and suggested looking at a "total resource ceiling" for the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new treatments.

"With little or no cash increase from 2011/12 the NHS has to prepare itself for real terms reductions in what it can afford to do," NHS Confederation Chief Executive Steve Barnett said in a statement accompanying the report.

The NHS was launched 1948 as a health service promising to be free at the point of need. It has grown in more than six decades to become Europe's largest employer, with more than 1.5 million staff across Britain. It deals with eight patients every second.   Continued...