NHS finance directors fear a drop in quality of care as financial pressures are expected to bite harder from next year
The latest quarterly monitoring report by The King's Fund shows NHS performance is "continuing to hold up well" and the majority (33) of the 45 NHS finance directors surveyed said they are "confident" of delivering average cost improvement targets for 2012 of just under 5%.
However, 27 directors said they were "sceptical" they would be able to deliver the same amount of savings in 2013 and 40% expect the quality of care to worsen "over the next few years". The report also highlights a reduction of 27,000 full time NHS posts since March 2010.
This number includes a reduction of nearly 4,800 nurses, midwives and health visitors and around 8,000 managers (a drop of around 18%).
In contrast, the number of hospital consultants has risen by 8% during the same period.
"The NHS continues to perform well in the second year of the productivity challenge," said Professor John Appleby, Chief Economist at The King's Fund.
"But there are signs that future years will be harder. The end of the public sector pay freeze next April may add to financial pressures and increase the strain on services. The difficulty for local providers will be finding ways to absorb these costs without compromising the quality of care for patients."
Despite the financial worries, the report found the NHS is performing well against a number of key performance measures.
Waiting times for hospital treatment have now fallen back to the same levels as June 2010 - the same time as when the coalition government stopped central performance management of targets – as well as the proportion of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E has dropping down to 3.4% from 4.2% in the last quarter of 2011/12.