Concerns about the financial resilience of 34 NHS trusts  - representing 34% of all trusts in England – have been reported for 2013/14, up from 26% for the previous financial year, the Audit Commission has reported.

2013/14 has also seen a threefold increase in the number of NHS trusts being reported to the Secretary of State for Health for failing to meet their statutory break-even duty, at 20 (20% of the total), compared with only five trusts for 2012/13, says the Commission. In addition, 24% Clinical Commissioning Groups, or 11% of all CCGs, were referred to the Secretary as a result of financial concerns in the latest period.

“This year, auditors are reporting concerns about the financial resilience of a third of NHS trusts compared with a quarter last year,” said Marcine Waterman, controller of audit at the Commission.

‘This level of reporting is worrying, and reflects the increasing risks to the financial stability of individual NHS trusts as they continue to face sizeable financial pressures due to a rising demand for services and the necessary focus on quality of care, whilst balancing the need for continued cost savings,” she added.

The main reasons for concerns over “financial resilience” are that NHS trusts have failed to meet their statutory break-even duty in 2013/14, they have set deficit budgets for 2014/15, they have failed to achieve Cost Improvement Programme targets or they have been reliant on cash to support their operational activities. 

Commenting on the Commission’s findings, the British Medical Association (BMA) said it found them “deeply concerning,” and also pointed out that one of the trusts to be referred to the Health Secretary for failing to meet its duty to break even is the private provider-operated Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust.

“For all of the government’s misguided championing of private providers playing a greater role in the NHS, it is telling that the first privately-run trust is not immune to the pressures affecting the whole of the health services,” said BMA council chair Mark Porter.

He added that the Commission’s report is “just another sign” of the growing financial problems in evidence across the NHS, with The King’s Fund’s latest quarterly report finding that around a quarter of trusts and foundation trusts, plus almost 10% of all CCGs, are in deficit.

“Growing queues in our GP surgeries and emergency departments are now a daily reality for many patients,” said Dr Porter.