NHS financial problems endemic and no longer sustainable, say auditors

The financial problems of the NHS are now “endemic” and have worsened so significantly in the past year that the situation is no longer sustainable, Whitehall’s official auditor has warned.

Two-thirds of health trusts in England are now in deficit, the National Audit Office has discovered, while their total debt has almost trebled since 2015 to £2.45bn. Auditors were particular alarmed by the decision to transfer £950m from the NHS’s budget for buildings and IT to pay staff’s wages.

MPs say the report amounts to one of the the most critical assessments of NHS finances by official auditors, as their reports usually err on the side of caution. The report will add to pressure on Theresa May and the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to set aside extra money in the autumn statement on Wednesday to plug the funding gap in the health service.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee, said the Department of Health was making “pie in the sky assumptions” about closing that gap.

She added: “I call on the prime minister to address [in the autumn statement] the realities of increasing deficits in NHS trusts, long-term workforce problems, unrealistic efficiency targets and the impact these financial stresses are having on the quality of services.”

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “With more than two-thirds of trusts in deficit in 2015-16 and an increasing number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) unable to keep their spending within budget, we repeat our view that financial problems are endemic and this is not sustainable.”

The NHS overall entered the current financial year with a “worse than expected starting point”, which could hamper plans to close the estimated £22bn gap between patients’ needs and resources by 2020/21, auditors said.

Full story in The Guardian 22 November 2016