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NHS deficit set to hit worse levels than predicted

Sector predicts £623m deficit by April 2018

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 17 November 2017

NHS trusts in England are now predicting a worse deficit than originally predicted by the end of the current financial year, according to the latest performance data.

The quarterly performance of the NHS provider sector for the second quarter (July to September) of the 2017-18 financial year reveals that NHS trusts and foundation trusts are collectively predicting a full-year deficit of around £623 million – £127 million worse than planned.

The data from NHS Improvement also showed that despite the NHS treating more patients than even before, more people were seen within four hours in A&E and within 18 weeks for planned care.

NHS Improvement said hospitals in England had succeeded in treating more patients within key operating standards, and sustained efficiency levels, despite an extremely challenging operating environment that had placed considerable pressure on NHS staff.

Between July to September of this year, 90.2% of emergency patients were seen within four hours – meeting the national ambition of 90% by September while 3.43 million patients were seen within 18 weeks, compared with 3.36 million during the same period last year.

Cost improvement programmes had delivered £1.25 million of improvements in the first six months of the year and hospitals had delivered a £119 million reduction in temporary staffing for the first six months of the financial year, compared to the same period last year.

Jim Mackey, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: “Despite providers of NHS care being under immense pressure, they have done better both for patients and for taxpayers this quarter.

“The NHS is treating more patients than even before and yet more patients have been seen within four hours in A&E and within 18 weeks for planned care. In addition, NHS providers are delivering levels of efficiency and productivity that no other health system is managing to deliver.”

However, he added: “Based on this quarter’s results, the combined end of year deficit for hospitals in England will be worse than planned. While we are working across the NHS to prepare for winter pressures, they may be difficult and will place the system under even greater pressure.”

Responding to the figures, health think tank the Nuffield Trust senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said the underlying financial problems were even worse than they might appear to be.

“Today’s figures show NHS hospitals are being asked to make unachievable levels of savings to make up for years of underfunding during which the need for care has continued to rise,” said Ms Gainsbury.

“By the end of September, trusts were reporting a collective overspend of £1.15 billion. But even that is only after they received £630 million of emergency funding which the government plans to spend elsewhere in future. Trusts also relied on £300 million of one-off savings such as selling land, which cannot be repeated.

“Once those figures are stripped out, NHS trusts were collectively overspending by an average £346 million a month for the first six months of the current financial year – worse than at the same point in 2016-17. At the current rate of monthly overspending, they will end 2017-18 with an underlying deficit of £3.9 billion.

“That might be patched over in the accounts with more one-off emergency funding and savings, but such measures will do nothing to relieve the ongoing pressure in hospitals and other services.”

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