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The provider sector ended this financial year with a deficit of £960m, a report by NHS Improvement has revealed.
Providers closed the financial year with a deficit £464m above what was anticipated at the start of the year and £30m above what the sector anticipated at the end of December.
The deficit applies to the provider sector as a whole, despite 156 out of 234 trusts ending the 2017/18 tax year ‘at or better than planned financially’, according to the report published today.
The report stated: ‘At aggregate level, only the acute sector is in deficit, and this position is offset by a significant surplus in other sectors (community, mental health, ambulance and specialist trusts).’
Increased demand on A&E departments during the coldest months of the year fed into the deficit within the provider sector, the report said.
NHS Improvement said they are offering support to ‘12 of the most financially challenged providers through its special measures programme, all of which are in the acute sector.’
An additional 220,000 people went to A&E during the first three months of 2018, when compared to the same period last year.
Many had to face long waits as performance against the four hour standard for 2017/18 fell to 88.4%, compared to 89.1% in 2016/17, NHS Providers said.
Despite 102 trusts being in the red, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said they must be given credit for their performance.
He said: ‘Winter pressures have had a substantial impact on trust finances. In those circumstances, the overall deficit of £960m was a creditable performance.’
‘Window dressing figures’
Mr Hopson added that today’s figure ‘masks the full underlying deficit which is much higher’. He also commented ‘how reliant the NHS continues to be on one-off savings’.
NHS Improvement suggested trusts should focus less on raising money from selling off hospital-owned land and more on making savings ‘through procuring medicines, planning operations better and utilising technology’.
The Nuffield Trust said Emergency cash injections and one-off sales of land have allowed the health service to ‘patch up’ its finances, hiding an underlying deficit that is much higher than what reported by NHS Improvement.
Commenting on fourth quarter figures for 2017/18, Nuffield Trust senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said: ‘The figures published today are very much window dressing.
‘Today’s report reveals that the £960m reported deficit figure was arrived at after around £850m of one-off savings and the non-recurrent £1.8bn Sustainability and Transformation Fund.
‘Taking these into account, along with other short-term fixes, the true deficit is likely to be in the region of £4bn – similar to [the Nuffield Trust’s own] projections.’