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Half of CCGs forced to delay or cancel spending to keep finances afloat

Half of the CCGs in England are planning to delay or cancel spending in order to reach their financial targets, health experts have today revealed.

In a survey conducted by think tank the King’s Fund, CCG and Trust leads were asked about their current and projected financial wellbeing.

Despite more than half (54%) of trusts reporting that they will end the year in surplus, the results make for grim reading for NHS England leaders as cracks were found in many other parts of the system. For instance, the King’s Fund found that many Trusts were being forced to raise money from one-off actions such as land sales and payments from the Sustainability and Transformation Fund to prop up struggling finances.

On top of that, 43% of trust directors said that they expected to overspend on their budget, whilst 46% said they were concerned about reaching financial targets.

This same lack of confidence in financial security also applies to CCGs, as only one in five commissioning leads were confident of balancing the books this year.

The think tank did have some good news, however. The final quarter of 2016-17 saw a considerable improvement for A&E performance, as 90% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours. But less than one in 10 trust finance directors believed that this commitment would be met by September 2017.

Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said that the improvement in A&E performance in February and March was a tribute to successful planning and the hard work of NHS staff given how difficult the winter period had been.

“While the financial picture improved at the end of the last financial year, much of this is down to one-off actions such as selling land,” he added. “The high levels of concern about the year ahead suggest that NHS providers are again likely to run up a significant deficit in 2017-18, a year when the sector is supposed to be in balance.”

He added that with many CCGs planning to delay or cancel spending, local NHS leaders will be forced to make tough decisions about priorities “and this is likely to have a direct impact on what care patients can access and how long they have to wait for it”.

“This reinforces the underlying reality that demand for services is continuing to outstrip the rate at which the NHS budget is growing,” stated Murray.

Janet Davies, CEO and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the figures should be a wake-up call for politicians in the last week of the election campaign.

“It cannot be fair that patients in half of England will wait longer for certain operations – many in pain and discomfort – as the NHS cuts costs. Some patients won’t get treatment at all as the postcode lottery in care is entrenched,” she added. “Promises to increase mental health spending risk being broken while hospitals feel forced to sell-off land just to stay afloat.”

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