Faith in STPs' effectiveness has improved, says HFMA

6 Jul 17

Faith in the effectiveness of Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships to help transform services and re-balance NHS finances has improved significantly, according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association‘s latest six-monthly NHS financial temperature check.

This found that half of NHS finance chiefs surveyed thought STP relationships were strong enough to deliver change, up from only 20% in the equivalent December 2016 survey.

Although, there was less conviction that STPs could successfully reduce the NHS funding gap, with 89% of NHS trusts and 77% of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) doubting this would happen before 2021.

Only 1% and 3% respectively thought there was enough capital to put STP plans into place.

But the survey found financial performance improved across most NHS bodies, with 84% of provider trusts and 63% of CCGs reporting they performed better than expected in the 2016-17 financial year.

According to the HFMA, this was due to some trusts receiving larger than expected amounts from the £1.8bn sustainability and transformation fund.

CCGs had their financial performance improved by the release of their 1% risk reserve funds and were expected to report a combined surplus of some £250m for 2016-17, compared with a £16m deficit the previous year.

Trusts’ finance professionals said they were targeting further efficiencies this year through cost improvement programmes that aim to achieve savings of 4.5% in 2017-18, up from 3.7% in 2016-17.

The majority of trusts identified agency costs as the main area in which they plan to make savings, although, Brexit might drive these costs up with staff from European Union states departing.

In CCGs, quality, improvement, productivity and prevention plans are set to deliver efficiencies of 3.9% this year, against 2.6% last year, the HFMA pointed out.

There were fears savings would damage care, a view shared by finance chiefs in 28% of CCGs and 24% of trusts.

HFMA president Mark Orchard said: “The last few years have been the most financially challenging that most of us in the NHS can remember and the challenges look set to continue.

“However, there are reasons to be positive. The level of efficiency savings delivered in 2016-17 by finance staff working in collaboration with their clinical and management colleagues should be applauded.”

Orchard warned that efficiency challenges this year would be “even tougher”. 

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said the HFMA’s findings “should be a wake-up call”.

He explained: “Our members have repeatedly pointed out that they cannot sustain current levels of service with such a fragile funding settlement and that this is likely to get worse with NHS spending per head falling next year.

“What is needed is clear ring-fenced funding for transformation in the Budget statement later this year, to accelerate change while keeping the lights on today.”

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