10 FEB 2017

Time we coughed-up for our NHS?

Kent Messenger Column - 10-02-17 

This paper previously reported of West Kent Clinical Commissioning group's (WKCCG) decision to cease non-urgent operations until the new financial year. Last week, this story was also featured nationally in papers such as the Guardian and the Times. Kent MPs had not been given any notice of these changes by the CCG which prompted myself and my two neighbouring MPs to hold an urgent discussion with WKCCG's 'accountable officer', Ian Ayres, to get to the bottom of matters.

For the benefit of worried constituents, I should firstly clarify that GPs are still referring patients to hospital specialists to fully diagnose conditions and plan treatments. It is only if an agreed procedure or pathway is not considered urgent that the CCG is delaying it until April 2017 onward. Reassuring for some, but eminently unsatisfactory for those in discomfort awaiting hip and knee replacements, which are typically the types of operation being delayed.

Mr Ayres admitted that the delay will only buy some time to work out what to do about the funding shortfall in the longer term. Meanwhile there will be a build-up of some 1700 patients to treat in the next financial year, adversely affecting CCG finances and hospital resources in 2017-18 when the 'tap' is turned back on.

I have some sympathy for WKCCG because increased patient demand is simply exceeding the finance available from a fixed annual government contract; there are more of us, living longer, with more complex conditions and expensive treatments than ever before.

Lessons need to be learned from the few CCGs in our region who are balancing their budgets, but these will likely be limited in breadth and depth; the need for substantial additional funding therefore seems inescapable. For several years now public mood has suggested we would be willing to pay higher taxes specifically to bolster up our NHS. It will be a brave Government to take that step but it is a question that must now be debated.

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