MPs have accused the government of reacting too slowly to the financial problems being experienced by acute hospital trusts and failing to prevent a ‘black hole’ in NHS finances.
A report by members of the House of Commons public accounts committee, published on 15 March 2016, criticises the Department of Health and other government agencies for only recently taking serious steps to reduce the cost of expensive NHS agency staff.
The report says the government has set NHS trusts unrealistic financial targets based on “seriously flawed” data that have caused “long-term damage” to their finances. Their financial performance has deteriorated sharply and the trend is unsustainable.
The MPs argue that the current payment system for NHS providers is “not fit-for-purpose as it does not incentivise the right behaviours needed for joined-up healthcare services”.
MPs are recommending that the government ensures that “all trusts in deficit have realistic recovery plans by the start of the 2016-17 financial year” and that “informed and realistic” efficiency targets are set for providers.
Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and chair of the committee, says acute hospital trusts are at “crisis point”.
“Central government has done too little to support trusts facing financial problems with the result that overall deficits are growing at a truly alarming rate. Crude efficiency targets have made matters worse,” she says.
“Without urgent action to put struggling trusts on a firmer financial footing there is further serious risk to services and the public purse… It is unacceptable for senior government officials simply to point to excessive agency costs as a source of trusts’ difficulties.”
The committee wants the Department of Health, NHS England and NHS Improvement to report back on their progress in September 2016.