Winter pressure is watershed moment for the future of the NHS

11 January 2018


The pressures being experienced by front-line health and care services this winter are a watershed moment for the NHS, and the government must accept that the service can no longer deliver what is required of it within current funding.   

That is the warning today from NHS Providers in a letter to secretary of state for health and social care, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP. The organisation, which represents 98% of hospital, mental health, community and ambulance service trusts in England, says despite the NHS preparing more extensively than ever before for this winter, there are not enough beds and staff to ensure the standards of care and safety that patients rightly expect. An increase in flu cases, more respiratory illness and cold weather have pushed the service up to and beyond  its limits this winter.


NHS Providers says it is now impossible to meet the standards of care set out in the NHS Constitution alongside fully recovering performance targets, consistently maintaining high-quality patient care, investing in the NHS’s capital requirements, and joining up services to deliver 21st century care. It argues that urgent decisions on long term funding for health and social care must be taken which will allow the NHS to either sustainably deliver all that is required of it under its constitutional standards or change them.

These decisions must be put in place no later than the November Budget or we risk further deterioration in performance, the organisation said.

In addition, NHS Providers is calling for a full review of how well the NHS handled this winter.


Chris Hopson said:

“The NHS is at a watershed moment.

“Despite planning for winter more thoroughly and extensively than before, it hasn’t been sufficient. Rising numbers of flu cases and more respiratory illness have placed intolerable pressures on staff.

“The NHS is no longer able to deliver the constitutional standards to which it is committed. We need to be realistic about what we can provide on the funding available.

“If we continue to run the NHS at close to 100% capacity, day in day out, permanently in the red zone, it’s not surprising that the service can’t cope when we get a high, but entirely predictable, spike in demand.

There is so much at stake. We can fix this, but there must be no more delay. The ball is now firmly in the Government’s court.

“We need a full and frank review of how well the NHS handled additional winter pressures.

“Beyond that, we have reached the point where we can no longer delay key decisions on the long term funding of health and social care.

“A government-led process must draw upon the high-quality work on future health and care spending, including the Institute of Fiscal Studies, Office for Budget Responsibility, the Barker Commission for The King’s Fund on how to pool health and care funding, and several all party parliamentary committees which have looked at what is needed to create a sustainable NHS.

“Failure to act now will lead to targets moving further out of reach. This would harm the quality of care, causing delays and distress for patients and weakening staff morale. It could also undermine public faith in the NHS.

“There is so much at stake. We can fix this, but there must be no more delay. The ball is now firmly in the Government’s court."


Read the full letter to health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt.