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NHS Wales 2012/13 financial challenge – even with £300m savings last year

04/04/12

Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, Helen Birtwhistle explains why NHS Wales has a tough year ahead when it comes to savings, despite a massive amount being saved last year.

The 2011/12 financial year was a difficult one for the NHS in Wales, with preliminary figures showing that the health boards have made savings of £300m, a big achievement for NHS staff.

The amount for the 2012/13 budget for healthcare is £6.2bn, broken down to £2,000 per head of population – the equivalent costs of one non-emergency caesarean section.

For the next three years, NHS Wales needs to make 5% savings every year. To put this into perspective, operations such as fitting a pacemaker can cost up to £10,000 – which makes maintaining strict savings very challenging.

The savings that have already been made were achieved through a range of initiatives designed to improve efficiency without compromising patient services. The health boards saved £49m by finding better ways of buying prescription medicines and £66m by joining up how stocks and equipment are ordered across different departments and organisations.

The only issue with this is that they’re one-off savings. Once the problem has been solved however, there is no more opportunity to make that saving again.

To combat this, the NHS is looking to make more fundamental changes to the way services are delivered. This means supporting patients earlier in their care pathway, preventing them from needing hospital care. At the moment, 60% of hospital bed days are taken up by patients with chronic conditions when evidence has shown many of these people could be treated closer to home.

This should increase savings as running a hospital ward in an acute hospital costs up to £1m a year – so the less people going to hospital the more savings can be made by NHS Wales.

Patients can also rest assured that everything is done with them in mind and to improve patient care - it has also been proven the patients prefer to be treated closer to home.

The advice and expertise of clinicians will be central to how Wales manages with the savings over the next 12 months, and work is continuing to gather views on how the best care can be delivered within the resources available.