As expected, the National Health Service has generated a surplus of £1.74 billion for 2008/09 and also managed to meet a number of “key commitments” in priority areas such as waiting lists and hospital-acquired infections.

According to the Department of Health, the NHS has kicked off the current fiscal year in a “strong financial position”, having not only “sustained a healthy surplus” but also having managed to slash gross operating deficit from £125 million in 2007/08 to £58 million last year.

In addition, the fourth-quarter report shows the health service has made significant progress in achieving important targets in healthcare, such as treating all patients within 18 weeks following referral by a GP.

The Service also gained significant ground in its fight against HACIs during the quarter, with a 7% cut in the number of MRSA infections compared to the prior period, and made “good progress” on extending GP surgery opening hours, under the wider remit of making primary care services more accessible to the general population.

Furthermore, a recent survey of adult inpatients by the newborn Care Quality Commission, which replaced the Healthcare Commission earlier this year, found that levels of patient satisfaction with the NHS are high, with 93% of respondents rating their overall care as “excellent”, “very good” or “good”.

Progress lacking
On the down side, progress in reducing the incidence of teenage pregnancies and tackling the variety in the quality of maternity services around the country fell short of expectations. Latest figures show the incidence of teenage pregnancies - which are associated with a much higher risk of infant mortality - is actually on the rise, despite the government target of a 50% reduction in the under-18s conception rate from the 1998 figure.

But commenting on the results overall, David Flory, director-general of NHS Finance, Performance and Operations at the DH, said they confirm “the excellent progress the NHS is continuing to make”, and that “a strong financial position, backed by good progress on delivery, will continue to ensure high quality services for patients, particularly in the current economic climate”.

Furthermore, he said: “The strong financial position this year will ensure the NHS is well placed to meet future challenges”, such as the government-set target of generating £15 million worth of efficiency savings over the next three years.

But speaking at the British Medical Association conference last week, Jonathan Fielden, head of its consultants' committee, said the surplus must be reinvested into patient care. "It has been hard-earned and our patients need it; as patients also need the £1 billion or more our FTs have set aside. The Treasury MUST NOT pilfer this coffer. NHS money is for NHS patients," he stressed.