In an attempt to meet the increasing demand and also to lessen the financial deficit, NHS bosses are planning to cost-cut and eliminate a variety of critical services, such as the closure of A&Es, that have been kept secret from the communities they serve and will almost definitely affect thousands of people.
Investigations by think tank The King's Fund, uncovered that health managers in 44 areas of England have been ordered to draw up strategies setting out how they will reduce costs, change services and improve care in the wake of a record US$2.45 billion deficit.
The King's Fund report, titled Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), reveals that despite the plans being kept secret, STPs offer the best hope to improve health and care services despite having been beset by problems so far.
STPs plans for the future of health and care services, being developed in 44 areas of England, have been strongly criticized by politicians, local authority leaders and patient groups. Local government involvement has been non-existent; clinicians, frontline staff and patients have not been informed and much of the information has been kept away from the public.
Controversial plans are the right way forward for the NHS https://t.co/Fn6PWkhTxg— The King's Fund (@TheKingsFund) 14 November 2016
Despite these problems, the report urges the government and the NHS to continue to back STPs as the best hope for delivering long-term improvement in health and social care.
Without the changes, the NHS at local levels could be facing a financial shortfall of about US$25bn by 2020-2021, if no action is taken, the research suggests.
The proposal for Cheshire and Mersey, includes the downgrade of at least one Accident and Emergency (A&E) department while in south-west London the number of acute hospitals could be cut from five to four.
The radical cost-cutting changes are being overseen by NHS England and are already sparking a series of local political battles. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt will face fresh criticism and this also comes just a few weeks after the Prime Minister Theresa May, claimed that her government will pump US$15 billion into the NHS by 2020. But Health Committee members claim that this simply is not true.
Five MPs, led by Dr. Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, wrote to the Chancellor demanding the government stop claiming that they will be putting US$15 billion into the NHS annual budget and admit the severity of its financial shortage.
Chris Ham, Chief Executive of The King's Fund, said that the STPs introduction has been frustrating.
"The introduction of STPs has been beset by problems and has been frustrating for many of those involved, but it is vital that we stick with them," Mr. Ham said in an online statement.
"For all the difficulties over the last few months, their focus on organizations in each area working together is the right approach for improving care and meeting the needs of an ageing population. It is also clear that our health and care system is under unprecedented pressure, and if STPs do not work then there is no plan B," Mr. Ham said.
Last year's Conservative manifesto pledged an extra US$10 billion a year for the NHS by the end of this parliament, as demanded by the NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, in his 2014 "five-year forward view". But Stevens made clear that was the minimum money needed, and radical reforms to the way healthcare is delivered would also be necessary to make the NHS hit its budgets.
"The progress made so far has only happened because of the hard work of local leaders who have been prepared to work around the difficulties. It is vital that NHS national bodies learn the lessons so far, so that we can see STPs fulfil their potential," Mr. Ham said in an online statement.
The present future of the NHS remains unclear, with such radical changes and developments it seems uncertain if the future generations will still have a health services available for them to use at the point of need. With plans being kept secret, from the public and the Kings Fund claiming that the NHS cuts are necessary, what the NHS looks like in the coming years is still not clear.