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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
NHS hospital deficits 'improving'
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt
Ms Hewitt denied 50% of NHS hospitals were in the red
The "great majority" of hospitals which were in serious deficit last year have improved their position, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt says.

She told Sky's Sunday Live that fewer than 10% of hospitals still had serious debts and the NHS overall would be "in balance".

Ms Hewitt said she could not give the exact number of hospitals in the red but denied claims 50% were struggling.

Government figures this week will show how finances compare with last year.

'In balance'

Ms Hewitt told Sky: "The NHS as a whole is in balance. We will see when we get the final figures - it's fewer than 10% of hospitals that have got serious deficits.

"It's a very small minority - the great majority of trusts that were in deficit last year have significantly improved their position."

In February forecasts indicated that NHS trusts in England were creeping deeper into debt.

According to figures from three-quarters of the way through the 2006-7 financial year, one in three hospitals and primary care trusts, which pay for local services, were not expecting to balance their books.

But NHS bosses have insisted overall the health service will break even.

This is because regional health bosses have built up a contingency fund of 450m from savings made to budgets, such as training and public health, and held back 1.1bn of extra funding.

This will be used to offset deficits at the end of this financial year.

Resignation calls

The health secretary is also facing mounting criticism from junior doctors who have backed a call for her to quit over botched training reforms.

Junior doctors have called for Ms Hewitt and Health Minister Lord Hunt to resign over what they describe as the "shambolic" medical training reform.

The Medical Training Application Service's online job application system was suspended amid fears personal details of applicants could be accessed online.

The computer system has also been criticised for not allowing candidates to set out their experience, meaning the best candidates have not been selected for interview.

The government says it is working hard to ensure the security of the system.

Ms Hewitt is due to appear alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday to mark 10 years of the government's NHS policies.

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