NHS struggling to plug a £22bn funding ‘black hole’, says report

The NHS in England lacks a convincing plan to plug a £22bn “black hole” in funding within five years, according to parliament’s spending watchdog. A significant number of acute hospital trusts are in “serious and persistent financial distress”, there is a “spiralling” trend of increased deficits and the current payment system is “not fit for purpose”, the public accounts committee said.

A report published on Tuesday found that reliance on agency staff, sometimes at “rip off” costs, had contributed to the dire situation and NHS trusts were also trying to meet unrealistic savings targets.

The conclusions followed a further examination of a National Audit Office inquiry into NHS finances, which was published in December.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said the government had done little to support trusts facing financial problems. “Without urgent action to put struggling trusts on a firmer financial footing there is further serious risk to services and the public purse,” she said.

“In particular, it is unacceptable for senior government officials simply to point to excessive agency costs as a source of trusts’ difficulties.

“It is the job of those officials to take action to control spending on agency staff, and to address its underlying causes. The use of agencies is a sticking-plaster solution to deep-rooted problems with NHS workforce planning.”

Full story in The Guardian 15 March 2016