Health Direct NHS preview of 2010

Spending will dominate debates over the NHS and health – especially in an election year and the scale of NHS cuts will become apparent as the year progresses.

Already hospitals have been told that they will receive no increase in the amount of money that they are paid per procedure, essentially a real terms cut in the cash they will receive.

Overall, the health service has also been set a goal to make between £15 million and £20 million of efficiency savings over the next four years.

The fact that McKinsey, the management consultancy firm, estimates that to achieve such that a goal would take making 10 per cent of NHS staff redundant and abandoning procedures such as varicose vein operations suggests the scale of the challenge.

Patients’ groups will continue to keep a close eye on the labour government’s drugs rationing body NICE in 2010. Over the last year the National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (NICE) began looking more favourably on drugs which prolong life for terminal patients, as it was instructed to do so by Government.

2009 also saw a number of drug companies come forward with innovative deals that allowed the NHS to pay less for some medicines.

But with expensive drugs for cancer and other illnesses coming through the pharmaceutical pipeline at all times patients will continue to monitor how Nice makes decisions about which drugs it will allow on the NHS.

The Government will scale up its Change4Life campaign, which so far has concentrated on children and families, to focus on adult obesity.

Despite data which suggests that rises in childhood obesity could be levelling off, ministers and health planners are still worried about the strain on the NHS if predictions that half of adults could be heavily overweight by 2050 come true.

2010 should be the defining year for the Swine flu pandemic. Will cases continue to drop or will swine flu return either early in the new year or next winter?

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, warns that we cannot be complacent about the threat that the virus still poses and points to pandemic flus in the 1960s in which death rates were higher in the second winter than the first.

The H1N1 vaccine could be the deciding factor, but to what extent remains to be seen.

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