The National Health Service is on track to close the financial year with a surplus of £1.4 billion in its back pocket, and also showed improved performance across a number of areas during the three months to December 2010.

The NHS' third-quarter report shows that Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have forecast an overall surplus of £1,269 million after the period, which equates to around 1.3% of total revenue resources, placing the service in good stead to hit £1.4 billion at the end of April.

According to the government, the cash surplus will "provide a strong foundation for the NHS as it modernises to cope with the pressures of an ageing population and rising costs", but it also stressed that, for those individual organisations not doing so well on the financial front, "the report sends a strong message that this needs to improve".

Four PCTs - Cumbria Teaching PCT (£8 million), Peterborough PCT (£3 million), Surrey PCT (£20 million) and Barking & Dagenham PCT (£3 million) - are expecting a gross deficit totaling £34 million, but this still marks an improvement on the prior quarter in which a shortfall of £56 million was predicted by four trusts.

And five NHS Trusts are forecasting a gross operating deficit of £94 million: South London Healthcare NHS Trust (£40 million), Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (£29 million), United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (£14 million), Newham University Hospital NHS Trust (£7 million) and Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust (£4 million). This compares to three NHS Trusts expecting a loss of £69 million at the end of the last quarter.

Again, the Department of Health stressed that while the overall financial position is solid, those struggling to manage their finances must be focused on. As such, the DH is working to ensure that the nine organisations forecasting a deficit "have robust plans in place to return to financial balance, whilst continuing to improve the quality of services to patients". 

Performance on the rise

On a more positive note, the NHS managed to better its performance in nine different areas over the period, including a continued reduction in hospital acquired infections, a faster response to patients with mini-strokes, improving bowel and breast cancer screening rates, and boosting access to dentistry (for adults).

In Q3, 330 MRSA bloodstream infections were reported, marking a 19% drop on the previous quarter and a 26% fall from the same quarter last year. For C.difficile, 4,983 infections were reported in Q3, 18% less than in the previous quarter.

Also of note, performance on seeing/treating high risk patients with symptoms of a minor stroke achieved the year-end threshold a quarter early, while performance relating to the amount of time a patient spends on a stroke unit is also showing improvement, the DH said.

Waiting times remained broadly stable, but the figures show a need to improve the uptake of the HPV cervical cancer vaccine in 12-13 year olds, as well as slashing unnecessary delays in A&E departments, the DH said.

“It is excellent to see that the NHS has not only maintained the quality of care patients receive but has improved services in a number of key areas," said NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson. 

Going forward, he said it is "critical we keep that focus on maintaining and improving our performance, while we increasingly focus on the overall outcomes we achieve for our patients".