NHS chief executive David Nicholson has said that the coming year will be pivotal for the NHS as it faces its last year of significant growth.
The Operating Framework for the NHS in England 2010-11, launched by the Department of Health yesterday, said that after a decade of investment the NHS is about to face “the toughest financial climate it has ever known.”
Nicholson said that the NHS needs to use its growth during 2010-11 to put into effect the changes that will deliver the most benefits to patients in the future.
The Framework comes one week after Chancellor Alistair Darling pledged that spending on crucial front-line services will continue to rise, over and above inflation, after 2010-11.
However, Darling also made it clear that the health service would be expected to find billions of pounds of efficiency savings; and did not go into detail about what would happen after 2012-13.
The Framework says that this year all primary care trusts will receive an average increase in their allocations of 5.5%.
It also says strategic health authorities and primary care trusts should plan to end the year with an aggregate surplus of £1 billion. This will be carried forward for deployment during the next spending review period.
Within this context, the Framework renews its emphasis on financial control, saying the DH does not expect NHS organisations to plan for an operating deficit in 2010-11 unless this is part of a planned recovery path agreed with the relevant strategic health authority and itself.
This year’s Framework repeats many of the key themes of last year’s ‘must do’ list, emphasising the need to deliver on the 18 week wait, maintain hospital cleanliness, and improve staff and patient satisfaction.
Its section on technology, however, takes up the theme of making the most of the NHS funding that is available.
It says NHS organisations should: “Take up the quality and efficiency benefits available by moving to NHSmail, utilise Choose and Book for all referrals, use products made available via NHS enterprise-wide agreements and realise the full potential of picture archiving and communications systems.”
On the National Programme for IT in the NHS, the Framework says it will: “give the NHS more involvement in decision-making with respect to scope and timing of implementations.”
It also says that a national strategy will be developed in collaboration with the NHS to support local ambitions for digital technological advances and that “the ongoing development of informatics capability within the general management workforce, as well as strengthening the capacity of the specialist workforce, will be central to delivering improvements.”
The document also confirms that local health communities will be expected to publish data on costs and other key benchmarks to allow for peer comparison.
Other priorities outlined in the Framework include: improving access to GP services, keeping adults and children well and improving patient experience and staff satisfaction by making data around staff satisfaction as well as patient feedback more widely available on NHS Choices.