Editorials

Challenges facing the health secretary in new Cabinet

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i3960 (Published 18 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i3960
  1. Chris Ham, chief executive
  1. King’s Fund, London, UK
  1. C.Ham{at}kingsfund.org.uk

Valuing staff and supporting them to improve care should be the priority

The immediate challenge facing Jeremy Hunt, who has been reappointed as health secretary in the new Cabinet, is to confront the parlous state of NHS finances in England. The aggregate deficit of £1.85bn (€2.2bn; $2.5bn) in 2015-16 was the largest in NHS history and resulted from increasing demands on providers at a time of constrained funding.1 Savings from other parts of the Department of Health’s expenditure may help to offset NHS overspending but cannot be relied on to do the same in future.

Almost all of last year’s deficit was concentrated in acute hospitals and was driven by the appointment of additional clinical staff, many recruited from agencies, in response to the failures of patient care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust2 and concerns about Care Quality Commission inspections. The regulator of NHS providers, NHS Improvement, has intervened to control the costs of agency staff and has signalled that providers should cut the number of clinical staff they employ to restore financial balance.3 …

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