The NHS in England performed strongly in the first quarter of this financial year, and Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are forecasting a surplus for 2011-12 of £1,165 million, says the Service's latest progress report.

The results of the report - which covers April-June 2011, the first period in a critical year for the delivery of the QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) challenge - are "encouraging" and the overall picture "justifies cautious optimism," says NHS deputy chief executive David Flory.

PCTs are estimating that they can achieve £5.9 billion savings during this financial year, which means the NHS is broadly on track to deliver the QIPP efficiency savings of up to £20 billion which it needs to make by 2014-15, says the report. However, it warns that "there can be no question of complacency in the months ahead."

"Signs that activity is being contained provide only a very early indicator of progress, and we must continue to ensure that referral management processes are clinically-justified and that there are no blanket bans or arbitrary restrictions on access to services," it cautions.

Progress during the first quarter highlighted by the report include that:

- the NHS Constitution commitments to meeting the 18-week waiting time for 95% of non-admitted patients and 90% of admitted patients were met;

- methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections were 25% lower than during the same quarter of last year, while clostridium difficile infections were 17% lower. 97 MRSA infections were reported in June, the lowest figure since mandatory surveillance began;

- waiting-time standards for cancer, accident and emergency (A&E) and ambulance services were all achieved, and new outcomes data for A&E and ambulance services were collected for the first time;

- a comprehensive monitoring and prevention system for reducing venous thromboembolism (VTE) is being implemented, the only one of its kind in the world, and 86% of adult inpatients received a VTE risk assessment in June 2011 - the goal is 90%; and 

- progress in NHS modernisation is continuing, with 257 pathfinder clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) having now been established, covering 97% of the population and increasingly taking on delegated responsibility from PCT clusters.

The first-quarter results show that the NHS is continuing to deliver strongly for patients while maintaining a healthy financial position, says Mr Flory. But, he adds: "we know that the NHS faces unprecedented challenges with an ageing population and the rising consist of complex technology and medicines. The challenge going forward is to maintain high-quality care while ensuring we maintain strong financial control."