UK & World News
Report: NHS Entering 'Treacherous Waters'
Cracks are starting to appear in the NHS as the scale of the unprecedented financial challenges it faces start to bite, a report warns.
Waiting times in emergency wards are rising and more and more hospitals are struggling with their finances, according to the King's Fund.
In the last year the number of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E has risen by 19%.
There has also been an increase in emergency admissions for people with long-term conditions and a rise in the amount of time pensioners spend in hospital after being admitted as an emergency.
While the NHS is "holding up", the think tank warned of "treacherous waters ahead".
It suggested the present financial constraints on the health service could jeopardise the progress it has made in the last 10 years.
The report, which analyses the state of the health service halfway through the Government's term in office, said financial pressures on the health service could begin to impact patient care as early as next year.
The report did note progress on issues such as tackling hospital bugs and reducing mixed-sex wards.
But it said major organisational changes and the loss of experienced managers could leave the NHS in a precarious position.
Anna Dixon, director of policy at the King's Fund, said: "The NHS is continuing to perform well but there are treacherous waters ahead.
"There are huge risks, particularly in ensuring that quality of care does not suffer with the further financial squeeze. The stakes for patients could not be higher, and frontline leaders will have a crucial role to play in meeting the challenges ahead.
"Neither competition nor commissioning reform alone can be relied on to make the improvements needed. Fundamental change will be required to address the challenges of the future as the population ages and health needs change."
Health Minister Lord Howe said: "NHS care, particularly for older people, needs to improve.
"This is a priority for us, and we are clear that the NHS should make significant improvements in these areas. We are giving the NHS an extra £12.5bn. In the meantime it continues to perform very well.
"As the King's Fund themselves say - waiting times are down, hospital infections are down, and mixed sex care is at its lowest ever levels.
"But to keep pace with an ageing population, and more and more patients with long term diseases, the NHS must change so that patients can get the best treatment and care they need, when they need it. Our reforms will protect the NHS, ensuring it is in the best possible place for the future."