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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Record winter demand leaves NHS more than £300m off deficit target

NHS trusts in England reported a deficit of £886m at the end of the last quarter, despite having a £580m deficit target for the end of March, according to figures by NHS Improvement (NHSI) released today.

NHS’ financial position is "not sustainable" ©iStock
NHS' financial position is "not sustainable" ©iStock

This is thought to be as a result of cancelled operations and higher than expected spending due to record winter demand, with 5.34 million patients attending NHS providers’ A&E units in the last three months of 2016 – 200,000 more than there were over the same period in the previous year.

NHSI believe the overall sector forecast deficit should be between £750m and £850m by the end of the financial year after identifying savings opportunities, however this is still significantly behind their target.

NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said: “We shouldn’t kid ourselves, the NHS’ underlying financial position is not sustainable. Despite doing everything they possibly can, NHS trusts are £300m behind the target of reducing the provider sector deficit.

“This is largely because of winter pressures. Trusts spent more than they planned and they lost income from cancelled operations – both were needed to create the extra bed capacity to meet record emergency winter demand.

“This shows the danger of planning with no margin for unexpected extra demand. We can’t expect to run NHS finances on wafer thin margins year after year and keep getting away with it.”

Despite being well behind targets, the sector’s financial position is estimated to be £1.3bn better than this time last year, with trusts making considerable progress to cut the £2.45bn deficit recorded in the 2015-16 financial year.

Measures to curb excessive agency spending resulted in a £505m saving, while there were 44 fewer NHS providers ending the quarter in a deficit compared to a year prior.

NHSI, chief executive, Jim Mackey, said: “We’re very thankful that most providers have worked hard to improve their finances and deliver quality health and care to their populations over the last nine months.

“However, the job is not done yet and we need each and every organisation to play its part. We will be working very closely with those providers off plan to bring them as close as possible back to plan this year.”

NHSI have said they will expand its Financial Improvement Programme over the coming months to help the NHS improve its finances further, and will continue to work with providers to identify and implement efficiency opportunities.