Dozens of NHS trusts could face bankruptcy by the end of this financial year.
Hospitals could be closed, services slashed and staff cut as unelected accountants take over from doctors and nurses. Even senior health service managers are panicking.
Health regulator Monitor admitted last week that 2014-15 will see a £5.1 billion shortfall across NHS England secondary care. This includes hospitals and mental health services.
And the risk of financial collapse is not all in the future. North Cumbria University Trust was so late paying bills recently that an electricity firm threatened to cut off the supply to one of its hospitals.
A similar picture exists in NHS Wales. Its funding gap is expected to rise to two fifths of the service’s current annual budget within ten years, according to new research.
The Tories are still demanding £20 billion of savings in the NHS. Even that will fall £2 billion short of what it needs to balance the books.
The crisis is being driven by four years of real terms budget cuts.
On taking office, the Tories claimed they would “protect” NHS spending. In reality they have frozen budgets while costs have risen in three key areas.
First, an ageing population means more patients, and more requiring intensive treatment. Second, the cost of drugs and medical equipment is far outstripping inflation.
Third, the scandal of poor care in Mid-Staffordshire has pushed some Trusts to spend more on staff.
The picture is set to get worse in 2015-16 as some £2 billion will be transferred from the NHS budget into the Better Care Fund.
This is supposed to pass responsibility for caring for older people and those with some long term illnesses to local councils and voluntary sector groups.
But many fear that the services needed are nowhere near complete. So the NHS could still have to provide their care—on a much smaller budget.
The Tories know the NHS could explode as a political issue and damage them in the run-up to next year’s general election.
They announced £600 million last week to tackle lengthening waiting lists. Officials acknowledged that there were 250,000 more patients waiting now than at this time last year.
They are also trying to buy time in accident and emergency departments. Many hospitals report the kind of waiting time backlogs expected during the winter flu season.
A clearly desperate health department has found £350 million in an attempt to stop photos emerging of patients waiting in corridors on trolley beds.
The potential for strikes in the NHS later this year could raise the temperature in the NHS even further.