Efficiency drive ‘could save NHS £2.2bn’

The NHS could save £2.2 billion a year by changing the way it provides services, in particular by reducing the time patients spend in hospital, the government has said.

A detailed audit highlighting how the NHS compares on 16 performance ratings has been sent to trusts around the country, showing how much money could be saved if they all worked as efficiently as the best 25 per cent.

It finds NHS trusts could “unlock” £975 million a year by improving the discharge process – for example, in the most efficient hospitals a patient with a broken hip will be in hospital for an average of 10.9 days, but this rises to 44.5 per cent in others.

About £348 million could be saved by reducing avoidable A&E admissions for angina and asthma, and a further £510 million could be cut by reducing “wasted bed days”, caused, for example, by unnecessarily admitting patients the day before their operation.

The report comes after the NHS treatments watchdog, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), announced last month it would be reviewing ineffective treatments and drugs to help trusts work more efficiently.

Last year chief medical officer Liam Donaldson said the NHS could save £21 million a year by cutting back on unnecessary tonsillectomies and hysterectomies.

Health minister Andy Burnham insisted the new drive for efficiency was not about “penny-pinching or cutting corners” but about using resources well and delivering the highest quality of care – he said most patients would prefer a shorter stay in hospital.

He admitted the publication of today’s audit did present a “challenge” to trusts but insisted the intention was not to “castigate or condemn” but help them get better.

This is particularly important given that NHS trusts last year recorded a combined deficit of £520 million, which will need to be paid off by next April.

“Productivity is about working smarter, not harder, and improved efficiency will deliver both better patient care and better value to the taxpayer,” Mr Burnham said.

“Enabling trusts to compare themselves to other organisations in this way gives local staff the opportunity to identify where they should be focusing their efforts to improve services.”

However shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said the audit showed “Labour’s failure”, saying there had been huge investment in the NHS but “no real reform”.

“If Labour had maintained the productivity levels they inherited from the Conservatives, they would have cleared 1.4 million patients from waiting lists,” he said. “The reality is that since 1997, NHS productivity has fallen by one per cent every year.”