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Drop in NHS productivity 'a myth'

NHS productivity has “probably improved” over the past decade, undermining the government's reasons for its controversial health reforms.

In a paper published in The Lancet, Nick Black, Professor of Health Services Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, casts doubt over Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's claims there had been a 15% reduction in productivity within the NHS.

Lansley's claims followed a damning report by the National Audit Office in 2010, in which it concluded overall NHS productivity fell by around 0.4% every year for the past decade.

This is despite the NHS budget increasing from £60bn to £102bn over the past ten years.

“Despite such confident statements, rather than declining, the productivity of the NHS has probably improved over the past decade,” said Black.

“To justify the reforms to the NHS that the Conservative Party wanted to introduce, the claim of declining NHS productivity was necessary.”

Black questioned the conclusions of the 2010 report, claiming the analysis carried out by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) “underestimated” the work being carried out by community services in developing “new, more productive clinical pathways”.

Such work led to greater life expectancy and increased patient satisfaction.

"A review of a much wider range of data than was previously available suggests substantial improvements in the quality of health care", Black said.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the research is “hugely embarrassing” for the government.

"[Black's analysis] demolishes an anti-NHS argument that Cameron and his Ministers have repeatedly trotted out for their right-wing re-organisation,” he said.

“Far from falling, NHS productivity increased in the last decade at the same time as the NHS was achieving record patient satisfaction. It is this successful NHS that, inexplicably, is being turned upside down by the Tory-led Coalition.”

In a statement to NiP, Health Minister Simon Burns said the government has always been clear that NHS productivity needs to improve.

"We are investing an extra £12.5bn in the NHS, but we want to make every penny count,” he said.

"We are modernising the NHS to put patients first, hand power to doctors and nurses, and reduce bureaucracy by £4.5bn." 

Question: Do you think NHS productivity is increasing or falling?