The head of the body that represents hospitals in England has joined the chorus of voices who do not believe Jeremy Hunt's plans for a "7-day NHS" can be achieved unless more money and staff are made available.
"Jeremy Hunt and others have made a very strong case for seven-day services but it seems to us it is impossible to deliver it on the current level of staff and the current money available," NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning.
He added: "If something has to give at the moment, and we are trying to do what we are currently doing, it can't cover important new policies, like seven-day services."
Hopson said lack of funding was already leading to difficult decisions having to be made in the NHS, such as the delaying of operations and the shutting down of A&E departments.
"We have now got hospital trusts having to close services; we have also got trusts who are saying that the only way to make the money add up is to cut the workforce," he said. "These are all things that have been done by other public service, but it's very different for the NHS."
While Hopson admitted "something has to give" if trusts are to be expected to deliver the right quality of care on the funds currently available, he said: "We should have a proper debate about what should give, rather than pretending the gap doesn't exist or leaving it up to each individual area to make a decision about what should give."
Speaking ahead of the next Autumn Statement, which comes on 23 November, he said Hunt's "7-day NHS" policy, which has attracted criticism from a number of angles, including civil servants at the government's own Department of Health, was a strong candidate for a project to be abandoned if junior doctors were to be expected to deliver high-quality care in the face of mounting pressure.
"The reason they are under pressure is precisely because we can no longer provide the quality of service, meet the standards, on the money we have available," Hopson said.
A recent survey by a group of junior doctors showed there were severe gaps in junior doctors rotas at hospitals across the UK, highlighting that there are already not enough doctors to meet the demands faced under the current system.
Last week the British Medical Association cancelled a five-day strike by junior doctors, due to start on Monday, over a new contract that aims to implement Hunt's seven-day service policy, but plans for further week-long strikes in October, November, and December remain in place.
While the government has characterised doctors' opposition to the contract as being fuelled by a keenness to earn more money and work less on weekends, doctors have been adamant that their already overstretched workforce simply cannot be spread thinner to deliver extra services without extra investment in staff.
Writing earlier in The Observer, Hopson said that in some areas of the NHS, performance is the worst it has ever been, despite the best efforts of staff, and said hospitals showed little sign of improving unless more funding is offered.
"We face a stark choice of investing the resources required to keep up with demand or watching the NHS slowly deteriorate," Hopson warned.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told BuzzFeed News funds allocated to the NHS should cover seven-day services.
“The money we have given the NHS to fund its own plan for the future – £10 billion more a year by 2020, and £4 billion just this year – covers our promise to ensure that standards of urgent and emergency care are the same across seven days," the spokesperson said.
"We want to be the first government to tackle unacceptable variations in care at the weekend, and have thousands more doctors and nurses to help us do so."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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