BMJ. 2016. 353:i2904
Providers of NHS services have amassed a £2.45bn (€3.2bn; $3.6bn) deficit in the past year, and although the scale of deficit is not as bad as feared, it has still almost tripled from the previous year (£834m).
Health policy experts have described the figures as unprecedented and said that the figure meant that the NHS’s overall deficit was about three times as high as the previous year’s, despite additional funding for the NHS and major efforts to boost efficiencies.
The figures, published on 20 May,1 show that for 2015-16 around two thirds (65%), or 157 of 240 NHS provider organisations, reported a deficit, most of which were acute care trusts. As well as acute care trusts, the figures are for ambulance, mental healthcare, and community care trusts.
NHS Improvement, the body responsible for overseeing foundation trusts, NHS trusts, and independent providers of NHS services, said that the figures showed that overall the NHS provider sector was £461m worse off than planned. It said that providers had risen to the challenge of record breaking demand for services but that more work was needed to continue improving services for patients and increasing efficiencies in 2016-17.
Analysis of providers’ operational and financial performance showed that they saw a record 21 million emergency patients last year, while the sector as a whole made £2.9bn in efficiency savings between April 2015 and March 2016. Nevertheless, NHS providers came under continuing pressure from further increases in demand for care, problems discharging medically fit patients, and high costs, particularly of agency staff. The sector spent £3.64bn on agency and contract staff in 2015-16. Consequently, many providers missed the national waiting time standard for emergency care and other operational performance measures in the last three months of 2015-16.
Halfway through 2015-16 the sector reported a deficit of £1.6bn and then predicted an end of year loss of £2.8bn, so today’s figures were not quite as high as feared.
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