A government-commissioned report by the King’s Fund health thinktank says years of denying funding to the health service and failing to address its growing workforce crisis have left it with too few staff, too little equipment and too many outdated buildings to perform the amount of surgery needed.
A “decade of neglect” by successive Conservative administrations has weakened the NHS to the point that it will not be able to tackle the 7 million-strong backlog of care the report concluded.
One of the experts consulted, said: “We have essentially had 10 years of managed decline. This is not a Covid problem. This is an austerity problem.”
“Though Covid certainly exacerbated the crisis in the NHS and social care, we are ultimately paying the price for a decade of neglect,” said the King’s Fund chief executive, Richard Murray. “The sporadic injections of cash during the austerity years after 2010 were at best meant to cover [the service’s] day-to-day running costs. This dearth of long-term investment has led to a health and care system hamstrung by a lack of staff and equipment and crumbling buildings. These critical challenges have been obvious for years."
He continued, “The NHS in 2022 faces many of the same challenges it faced in 2000: unacceptably long waiting times and a service hobbled by staff shortages. To that is now added a cost of living crisis, industrial action by staff and a backdrop of a weak economy and weak public finances.”
The promises made earlier this year in NHS England’s “elective recovery plan” are highly unlikely to be met. They included pledges to end waits of two years, 18 months and one year by the summer, next spring and 2025 respectively.