Sir Ian Carruthers, chief executive of England’s South West Health Authority, told a conference that figures to be published next week will show that NHS budget surplus increased in 2011.
‘I don’t think the NHS is short of money,’ he said. ‘We’re going to publish, in a week’s time, a bigger surplus. Our surplus has gone up [but] we’re delivering the same standards.’
Speaking at the UK Bioindustry Association and Ethical Medicines Industry Group conference in London, Sir Ian said continued underspending could mean the NHS loses its protection from budget cuts.
‘I think that it is only a matter of time before we have a debate on whether the NHS, and the prime minister, can continue to give us protected funding,’ he said.
This year's budget suggests that underspending will be clawed back in future budgets.
Sir Ian said NHS managers need to be 'brave' and face up to difficult decisions, rather than claiming that financial constraints prevent them making service changes.
‘The easiest social account for everything is to say we have no money,’ he said. ‘Sometimes people do have no money, but more often they mean: "I don’t agree with what you want to say is a priority. On my range of choices, I’m not prepared to think about your choice because it means I’ll have to make a choice about something else that I value more."’
He added: ‘It’s about choice and I much prefer people saying "I think what you’re doing isn’t my priority and I’m choosing not to do it." It’s so much easier to say "I’ve got no money", because you have to be brave to say "I disagree with what you’re trying to do or I don’t see it as a priority now".'