NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the health service would achieve financial balance overall by March 2007, and aim for the surplus by the end of the following year.
‘It’s not good enough to deliver balance across the system as a whole, we need to go for a surplus,’ he said.
This would boost trusts’ flexibility and ability to think strategically, he said.
Health secretary Patricia Hewitt told MPs earlier this year she would ‘take personal responsibility’ if deficits remained at the end of 2006/7.
Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ com-mittee, said: ‘Whilst it may be good business practice to have a financial surplus, the NHS will struggle to meet the challenge at a time when hospitals are already cutting back on patient services.
‘Operations are being delayed, jobs are being frozen, and trained doctors and other healthcare staff are struggling to find jobs, while the NHS attempts to get its fi-nances sorted.’
The NHS operating framework for 2007/8, published this week, calls for PCTs to review community-based services to set out plans to move services out of hospitals.
It also calls for practice-based commissioners and PCTs to move towards a ‘greater focus on joint commissioning between health and social care’, and better integration between health and social care and closer links to local government.
‘At a time when trusts up and down the country are in the grip of a damaging deficits crisis, the government’s demand that the NHS now achieve a quarter of a billion pounds surplus by 2008 can only result in increased job losses and further service cuts which can jeopardise patient care,’ said RCN general secretary Dr Beverly Malone.