Public backs NHS funding hike as A&E performance 'worst in 15 years'

Public backing for higher taxation to boost NHS funding has risen sharply in recent years, a major survey has revealed, as the latest hospital performance data confirmed that extreme pressure on the health service has continued beyond winter.

The proportion of the British public who believe the NHS is facing a major or severe funding crisis rose 14 percentage points to 86% between 2014 and 2017, according to a King's Fund analysis of data from the British Social Attitudes survey.

More than three in five (61%) of respondents support tax rises to increase NHS funding - up 21 percentage points from 2014 and 12 percentage points from 2016, the analysis found, with support from 'across the political spectrum'.

Backing for a tax-funded boost to NHS spending comes as public concern about NHS services deteriorating has risen beyond levels seen in the early 2000s, before the Labour government at the time significantly increased NHS funding over several years.

NHS pressure

Meanwhile, performance data published by NHS England this week revealed that more than 76,000 people waited over four hours on trolleys to be admitted to hospital in March, just five hospitals met the four-hour A&E waiting target - and overall performance on four-hour A&E waits was the worst in 15 years.

The findings come just weeks after the BMA warned that the winter crisis faced by the NHS was set to continue throughout summer. A worst-case scenario predicted by the BMA would see the health service facing A&E attendances, waiting times and admissions at a level similar to the 2016/17 winter - which brought a warning at the time from the British Red Cross that the NHS was facing a 'humanitarian crisis'.

GP leaders have long warned that the crisis in general practice will continue unless chronic underfunding is addressed. The BMA says that even with investment promised through the GP Forward View, general practice is on track to be £3.4bn underfunded by 2020/21.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: 'This winter has been exceptionally tough for the NHS and these figures show that there was no let up, even after the end of the traditional winter period.'

Winter crisis

He said the NHS had taken 'drastic steps to stay afloat', including halting all elective care, and 'breaches of the mixed sex accommodation rule'.

Mr Edwards added: 'The number of days that patients were delayed in hospital, despite being ready to leave, has dropped by 25% compared to this time last year - an impressive achievement in the current environment. But even with these steps, 76,054 people waited for longer than four hours on trolleys for admission to hospital in March, only five major A&E departments met the four-hour A&E target, and overall performance against the four-hour target dropped to the lowest levels seen in 15 years.'

"The NHS simply cannot go on like this. Running a health system so close to capacity is highly risky and doing so endangers patient safety, as well as staff wellbeing.'

On support for increased tax to fund the health service, NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: 'These figures clearly show that more of the public across the UK support more resources for the NHS and that they are willing to pay more tax to bring that about.

'The case for more money for both health and social care has been made and it is overwhelming. Without action, our health and care system will continue to deteriorate; millions will wait, more will suffer and some will die.'

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