The National Health Service looks set to slash its deficit for the year 2008/09 and has also met several performance targets for the third quarter of 2008/09.

Seven NHS organisations are forecast to turn in a deficit of £57 million for the end of the year, cutting the shortfall of £125 million recorded by 11 trusts in the previous year by more than 50%. Overall, however, the Service is predicting a surplus of £1.7 billion, which, it promises, will be sunk back into the NHS to continue to drive improvements to patient care.

On the performance side, access to primary care services has continued to improve, as the target of 50% of GP practices offering extended opening hours by the end of 2008 has been comfortably beaten. Over 71% of surgeries had their doors open at evenings and weekends in January of this year, thereby providing patients with greater flexibility and choice and attaining one of the government’s key healthcare goals.

Great strides are also being made in the fight against healthcare-acquired infections, an area that is also very close to the public’s hearts. The latest information shows a 13% reduction in the second quarter compared to the prior one, and “an impressive” 62% cut compared with the 2003/04 baseline, the report says. In addition, rates of Clostridium difficile infection in patients aged two to 64 fell 33% in the second quarter compared to the year-earlier period, while for patients aged over 65 the rate dropped 19%.

It seems progress is also being made in the fight against the rising swell of childhood obesity, which has been on the increase for at least a decade. According to the report, data published in December showed that there were 65,000 fewer obese children and 105,000 less overweight children in 2007 than if the trend had continued. “However, it is too early to be confident that the levels of child obesity and overweight children have stabilised and our efforts should always focus on reducing these levels”, it stresses.

A&E target missed
On the downside, the target that 98% of patients visiting A&E departments are seen within four hours was not met despite being achieved in the previous two quarters, so the pressure is now on those organisations with a history of underperforming in this area to ensure the standard is met for the year as a whole.

According to David Flory, the Department of Health’s director-general of NHS Finance, Performance and Operations, the report “confirms the excellent progress the NHS is continuing to make and its achievements in key priority areas”, and he claims 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”.