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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
NHS ' is heading for underspend'
Many trusts face deficits
The NHS looks like it has underspent by nearly 500m last year after making cuts amid intense political pressure to avoid a deficit, early data shows.

Unions suggested the NHS had gone too far in making cuts and harmed care. But the government said any surplus would be re-invested.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has staked her job on the NHS balancing.

Figures compiled by the Guardian newspaper revealed the under spend was estimated to be 456.8m in England.

The Guardian analysed data from England's 10 strategic health authorities, regional NHS bodies which oversee hospitals and local NHS trusts.

If these figures are right, we know that some trusts must have unnecessarily cut back on services to patients
Dr Sam Everington, of the British Medical Association

They showed that only two regions failed to balance its books - the east of England and the south-east coast. The north west on its own ran up a 161m surplus.

The figures include the 450m contingency fund - built up over the year by making cuts to training and public health budgets - which was redistributed to NHS trusts in March.

But the data shows a large increase on the three-quarter year point, when the NHS was predicting a small 13m surplus.

It is unclear how such a big surplus has been amassed in the final three months of 2006-7. There have been reports of trusts imposing minimum waits for operations in a bid to avoid paying for treatment until the new financial year.

The NHS had also not had the full 5.4bn increase in its budget passed on for 2006-7. Some of this went to pay off last year's debt of over 500m, but it that still left several hundred million pounds left over.

The Department of Health is due to publish the final figures next week.

'Impacted adversely'

But Dr Sam Everington, acting chairman of the British Medical Association, said: "If these figures are right, we know that some trusts must have unnecessarily cut back on services to patients such as reducing operating lists and clinics, closing wards, cutting education and training budgets, and making staff redundant.

"All of these things will have impacted adversely on patient care."

Other unions also questioned the fairness of staggering a 2.5% pay award for nurses and other health workers when there was so much money left in the system.

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the final figures would be published shortly.

But she added: "The NHS ended last year [2005-6] with a deficit of over 500m.

"This was unacceptable, and we introduced new rigour and discipline in order to put the NHS on a sound financial footing for the future."

Viewpoints: NHS deficits
20 Feb 07 |  Health
Q&A: NHS deficits
20 Feb 07 |  Health
NHS slipping into deficit again
09 Nov 06 |  Health

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