PAC: NHS finances in a ‘perilous’ state

28 Mar 18

NHS finances remain in a “perilous state” and are being “propped up” in the short term with rescue packages, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.

The group of MPs said the NHS was in “survival mode” and not enough attention had been given to improving the NHS’ financial sustainability long term.

They highlighted, in the report released yesterday, that trusts’ budgets were unable to keep up with demand and were forecasting a deficit of more than £900m in 2017-18 - even after a £1.8bn rescue fund in 2016-17.

Meg Hillier, the committee chair, said: ‘The National Health Service continues to scrape by on emergency hand-outs and funds that were intended for essential investment.

“We have said it before and we will say it again: rescue packages and budget transfers are no substitute for a coherent, properly funded strategy that enables NHS trusts to plan, focus on patient care and lay the groundwork for long-term financial sustainability.”

The PAC said the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement were “too focused on balancing the books in the short term”. 

It urged the DHSC to outline plans for a more stable, long-term funding solution for the NHS and the reduction of one-off savings by July 2018.

The PAC report also raised concern over a lack of accountability for the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans in England.

It said: “[NHS England and NHSI] provided no reassurance to our concerns about how they will ensure that patients’ complaints are effectively heard and addressed if care services are delivered jointly by different organisations.”

Hillier added: “It remains unclear how local partnerships, set up to develop strategy and help to transform services, will be held to account for their performance. This must be addressed.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “As this report recognises, the NHS has made significant progress towards balancing the books and returning to a financially stable position.

 “The secretary of state acknowledges that funding for the NHS is something that needs to be addressed with longer-term measures, rather than short-term, which the department supported in the Autumn Budget”.

The chancellor did give £2.8bn of resource funding to the NHS in England in the Budget in November last year, with £350m available immediately for winter pressures. 

He also pledged £10bn of capital investment by 2020 to the NHS, which he said would help support the Sustainability and Transformation plans. 

But NHS bodies called these commitments “disappointing”. 

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