The National Health Service is now on track to retain a surplus of £1.8 billion for the year 2007/8, a far cry away from the shortfall of £547 million booked in 2005/6, the latest figures suggest.

According to the Department of Health, the vast majority of NHS trusts should close the year in balance, allowing organisations to “plan better for the future, accelerate delivery on key priorities, and invest in new services for patients”.

Commenting on the expected surplus, Gill Morgan, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “It is basic common sense to create a healthy reserve so we can plan spending over the long term and reinvest in patient care for the future. This is sound financial management”.

She also stressed that it is “prudent to create a surplus as part of a long-term plan, given that the rate of growth in the NHS is set to decrease from next year. This will enable a smooth transition while protecting and improving services.”

Gross deficit falls
The expected surplus is almost double that what was predicted just a couple of months ago, when the government said the Service as on track to book a surplus of £983 million.
But the renewed forecast comes as gross deficit continues its downward trend, falling from £204 million in the first quarter of the financial year to £201 million in the second quarter.

This, said NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson, “represents good financial planning and provides the flexibility to accelerate the changes the NHS needs to make to ensure that patients continue to see improvements in services and delivery, such as working faster towards no patient waiting more than 18 weeks from referral to treatment.”

BMA critical
But the British Medical Association has taken a rather different view. A spokesperson told PharmaTimes UK News: “Resources earmarked for the NHS and patient care should be used for just that. An underspend means that money that should have been used to deliver services for patients has just been sitting there. What has happened to the services that were planned? Not balancing the books is bad news, but so is not using resources to improve the health service”.

On the service side, the NHS also continued to deliver improvements to patient care, ensuring: 98% of patients were given a GP appointment within two working days; the average median waiting time for diagnostic tests dropped from 6.1 weeks in April 2006 to 2.8 weeks; faster referral to treatment times; and further cuts in the rate of MRSA and Clostridium difficile infections in the over-65s.