NAO warns NHS savings plan is unrealistic

The government is unlikely to succeed with plans to save £1bn across the NHS, according to a new report from the spending watchdog, the National Audit Office.

The government had planned to make savings through the Better Care Fund, which is intended to integrate local health and social care services. Ministers anticipated this would reduce the number of unnecessary hospital visits by elderly patients, and have disagreed with the report’s criticism of the programme, noting that 97 per cent of local areas have had their Better Care Fund plans approved. Over £1.5bn more than originally anticipated has been pledged to the scheme nationwide, and last month Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt arguing that the Fund is central to the Government’s plan to “change the basic NHS model from one centred on hospital care to one that helps people stay healthy and at home”.

However, the NAO has suggested that targets for the Better Care Fund are overly optimistic and that, at best, it will achieve a third of its projected savings. The NAO has specifically highlighted a goal of reducing emergency admissions by 3.5 per cent, which it claims will be a struggle when admissions have risen by 47 per cent over the last 15 years. The Audit Office also added that it believed plans had been based on “optimism rather than evidence.”

The Better Care Fund is due to be introduced in April 2015 and is being partly funded by the Department of Health. Ministers and civil servants are expected to face criticism of the plans when the Better Care Fund is reported on by the Public Accounts Select Committee. Chair Margaret Hodge has spoken critically of the plans.