The survey of 45 NHS finance directors, carried out as part of a quarterly health service monitoring report by the think tank, found that 35 said their organisation would end the current financial year in surplus. Just three expected a deficit.
A total of 33 of the participants were confident of achieving 'cost-improvement programme targets' for 2012/13, but 27 said there was now a 'very high or high risk' that the NHS would not meet its 2015 efficiency savings target of £20bn. Of the panel, 19 said patient care would get worse in the next few years.
The NHS is currently performing well on targets for waiting times and hospital-acquired infections, the wider monitoring report found. Pressure on A&E is rising, however. The proportion of patients waiting more than four hours fell compared with the previous two quarters, which is expected at this time of year, but is at its highest level for this quarter since 2004/5, the King's Fund warned.
The report also found that 27,000 full time NHS posts had been lost since March 2010.
King's Fund chief economist Professor John Appleby said: ‘The NHS continues to perform well in the second year of the productivity challenge. But there are signs that future years will be harder. The end of the public sector pay freeze next April may add to financial pressures and increase the strain on services. The difficulty for local providers will be finding ways to absorb these costs without compromising the quality of care for patients.’