Hospital Dr News

Year-end £1bn NHS deficit: “reported figures are very much window dressing”

The NHS provider sector ended the financial year with a deficit of £960 million.

NHS Improvement said this was £464 million above the ambitious plan set for the year, but below the deficit of £1,281 million deficit reported at the end of Q3.

It said the deficit represented only 1.2% of turnover, with more than two-thirds of providers finishing the year on target or better.

Nuffield Trust Senior Policy Analyst Sally Gainsbury said: “Given the huge pressures on NHS providers, it is not at all surprising that the reported deficit for 2017/18 is £960m. As we have previously warned, there is a widening gap between what we are asking the NHS to do and what we are funding it to do.

“But we must remember that the reported figures are very much window dressing. Our analysis suggests that the true, underlying figure is much, much worse as the NHS has had to patch up its finances with a series of one-off savings and emergency extra cash.

“The report reveals that the £960m reported deficit figure is arrived at after around £850m of one-off savings – even higher than last year – as well as the non-recurrent £1.8bn Sustainability and Transformation Fund. Taking these into account, along with other short-term fixes, the true underlying deficit is likely to be in the region of £4bn – similar to our own projections.

“This hand-to-mouth existence is not a sustainable way to run complex and vital institutions like hospitals.”

RCP president Professor Jane Dacre added: “I am proud but not surprised at the dedication and commitment shown by NHS staff over the last winter to provide care for patients in the most difficult of circumstances.

“However, we should not take this for granted nor underestimate the effects of burnout on highly pressured staff working in these conditions for months on end.

“To prepare for next winter, we need to support the workforce as much as we can. This includes relaxing restrictions on visas so that doctors from overseas who are queueing up to work in our NHS can begin working here as soon as possible, and working hard to keep doctors from the EU from leaving due to Brexit.”

The figures also reveal persistent workforce shortages, and bed blocking issues.

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