Trust leaders are working to ensure every pound invested in the NHS is well spent

21 November 2023

Ahead of the Autumn Statement and the publication of the public sector productivity review, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Sir Julian Hartley said:

"NHS trust leaders and their teams are working flat-out to boost productivity in the NHS. 

"They are acutely aware of the need to ensure that every pound invested in the NHS is well spent and are committed to making productivity gains while protecting patient safety. That has been particularly challenging since the pandemic struck.

"From carrying out more operations and treatments to rolling out virtual wards, discharging patients faster when they are well enough to go home, and initiatives to improve staff health and wellbeing, leaders across hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services are doing all they can to deliver more care with existing resources.

"Progress is being made but they know more can and must be done.

"Early reports suggest that the public sector productivity review will focus on reducing the amount of time NHS staff waste on administration and focusing on artificial intelligence (AI).

"We know some trusts are already using AI to analyse X-rays, and to speed up bookings and referrals. AI does have the potential to be transformative in the longer-term.

"But we've got to get the basics right if we want to turbo-charge productivity in the NHS.

"Worrying levels of staff burnout, stubbornly high vacancy rates, stretched community and social care capacity, poor digital infrastructure and fewer hospital beds per person than comparable countries have all piled pressure on the NHS as it seeks to bounce back from the pandemic.

"Trust leaders also tell us that patients are presenting with are multiple, often more complex conditions, increasing the length of stay in hospital, and sometimes taking longer to reach diagnosis and ensure the right treatments.

"Funding forecasts made at the beginning of this year were based on financial and operational plans that were overtaken by events, not least 11 months of highly disruptive industrial action which has delayed more than one million patient procedures and appointments and hit trust finances hard.

"The Treasury's flat refusal to cover anything like the full cost of the strikes will slow down efforts to reduce waiting lists. Funding for initiatives which are crucial for long-term care improvement and cost reduction, including digital transformation, look set to fall by the wayside as national budgets are raided to make up for funding shortfalls.

"And while it's been a year since the chancellor announced his commitment to the publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan (LTWP), its success, and that of labour productivity in the NHS, is inextricably linked to it being regularly updated and appropriately funded, with sufficient investment going into the NHS estate, new technology and social care, all of which have been sadly lacking. 

"Trust leaders are clear though, that increasing productivity does not simply mean expecting already overstretched staff to do more.

"It's also right that prevention is also a part of the LTWP. The productivity review and wider Autumn Statement must not sideline this.

"Trust leaders know that investing in public health and tackling health inequalities is a win-win situation, proving to be both cost effective and delivering value for the taxpayer in the long-term by reducing demand on health services. The government must recognise this too."