Watchdog warns financial cuts put patients at risk

The NHS has improved its financial management, but at the risk of damaging patient care, a parliamentary watchdog has said.

Figures from the National Audit Office in a Public Accounts Committee report show that only 3% of NHS organisations were in deficit in 2007/8 - down from 22% the previous year. Also PCTs now had a combined surplus of £391m, compared with a £370m deficit the previous year.

But it also warned that two PCTs had only achieved this by shuffling money around and making ‘inappropriate pre-payments’.

Edward Leigh (Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Lincolnshire), the chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, welcomed the improvement in financial management.

But he added that: ‘Patients lose out if too much NHS funding is sitting unspent in bank accounts. The needs here and now of patients in parts of the country for drugs and better quality care must not be forgotten.’

He also sounded a warning note over plans for the NHS to achieve £15bn of efficiency savings over the next three years.

‘What must be demonstrated, rather than just asserted, is that improvements in efficiency are genuine and not at the expense of’ patient care, he said.

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