The NHS will face “significant cuts in its services” from 2011 unless it can become more productive, the King’s Fund said in response to today’s Budget.

Chief executive Niall Dickson said: “This is a wake-up call for the health service - no matter who is in power from 2011 the NHS will have to manage with very low or no growth in its funding.”

NHS chief executive David Nicholson has told HSJ planned allocation increases are “safe” until 2010-11 despite a reduced overall resource expenditure limit. However, in the next comprehensive spending review period there will be “significantly lower growth” than had been expected.

Mr Dickson said this meant the present year and next would be “relatively benign”. He added: “The real message from the Budget is that from then on the NHS will have to be much more productive or make significant cuts in its services.”

Short termism

He said the challenge was to improve productivity, which has been falling for five or six years.

“While a degree of short termism is inevitable, what the health service must avoid is crude cost cutting measures, such as freezing posts and delaying care to patients. This would ultimately leave the NHS in a poorer state when the recovery begins.

“Efficiency savings are possible but what is needed are evidence-based measures that help the front line improve the way it uses resources.”

Mr Dickson said health and social care should be considered together, higher quality and safer care can be cheaper, and services should be redesigned to be more productive.

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