Health Direct’s New Year predictions for the National Health Service in 2013

Health Direct’s top New Year predictions for the National Health Service (NHS) for 2013. Health Direct's New Year predictions for the National Health Service in 20132012 saw a new health secretary appointed, the NHS reforms finally being pushed through parliament and a host of initiatives launched to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles. The next 12 months promise to be just as eventful.

1) Of all the scandals to have hit the NHS over the last few years, one stands out: the treatment of patients at Stafford Hospital.

From a variety of different sources, we know that at least 400 patients died “needlessly” because of poor care between 2005 and 2008.

Deficiencies were found at almost every level from the ward floor to the boardroom as financial targets took precedence over the quality of care.

It created a culture whereby thirsty patients had to resort to drinking from vases and receptionists were left to assess patients in A&E.

But the scandal goes much further than the mismanagement of one hospital.

Stafford was monitored by local and regional managers and a host of patient safety agencies and regulators. Doctors and nurses working there were part of professional bodies.

And yet it took Dr Foster, a private research company which analyses NHS data, to flag up the concerns that eventually lifted the lid on what had been happening.

All this and more has been looked at by a public inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis QC. His report is due to be published in the first few weeks of the year.

2) Of course, what happens in hospitals is key to this. But an often over looked factor is the state of social care, which is essential in stopping the health and well being of the elderly deteriorating.

The council run system, which includes help in the home and care home places, is widely acknowledged to be on its knees.

For the past two years, ministers have been looking for a new way of funding the system.

One of the favoured proposals – put forward by the government-appointed Dilnot Commission – is the idea of capping the amount people have to pay towards their care.

But to the disappointment of campaigners ministers have been slow to make a decision.

When the social care white paper was published during the summer, there was no commitment on the cap and it appeared as if the issue had been punted into the long grass.

It is now understood that in recent weeks senior members of the government have begun discussing the merits of a cap again. It is certainly possible 2013 could see a major announcement in this area.

3) The NHS is in the middle of its toughest ever savings drive.

The budget is effectively frozen until 2015 and so to keep pace with the rising demands from factors such as the ageing population and obesity, the NHS has been asked to save up to £20 billion – about 4% a year.

The government has claimed this can be achieved through efficiency savings and the frontline should not be harmed.

But many experts have doubts. A recent report by the National Audit Office warned there was some evidence trusts were beginning to ration care by putting tighter restrictions on operations such as cataract surgery.

It also predicted the efficiency drive was only going to get tougher as the easy savings – such as pay freezes – had been made first.

The NHS still has money up its sleeve – it made a £2 billion surplus last year – but that masks the problems some individual trusts are having.

4) On 1 April perhaps the most radical change in the NHS since its creation will take place.

The NHS Commissioning Board will take over day-to-day running of the health service, while GP-led groups will gain control of much of the budget.

The new system has been operating in shadow form for some time, but 2013 will mark the moment when the new structures will be set free.

Patients will not notice any difference at first. Hospitals and GP surgeries will all look the same. But the “big bang” will undoubtedly be felt in the future.

As stated already, the NHS is facing a tough time financially.

Ministers hope the changes – described by NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson as so big you can see them from space – will help the health service rise to the challenge.

If they don’t succeed, expect fireworks both inside the NHS and in the Houses of Parliament.

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