The National Audit Office says short-term fixes have made some parts of the NHS “seriously unstable.”
According to reports published by the public spending watchdog, NHS provider trusts reported a combined deficit of £827m and clinical commissioning groups a £150m deficit in the year ending 31 March 2019.
The NAO said, extra cash from the government to stabilise the finances of individual NHS bodies has not been fully effective, pushing them into nearly £11bn of debt and forcing them to rely on short-term loans from the Department of Health and Social Care.
Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee Chief Executive Simon Dukes said the findings showed how many NHS trusts and commissioners still found themselves in “precarious financial position.”
He said: “These reports focus exclusively on NHS bodies, but we know that the lack of sustainable NHS funding is extending to contractors of essential primary healthcare services like community pharmacy as well.
“Community pharmacies have faced a succession of funding cuts over the years and many are now operating unsustainably yet still providing vital services to patients. The business case is now compelling for the NHS to pay more for key pharmaceutical services on which local communities and other parts of the health service increasingly rely.”
The NAO also found that the extra money brought in by the government to stabilise the finances of individual NHS bodies had not been fully effective as patient waiting times continued to get worse and the number of people waiting for treatment continued to increase.
“The short-term fixes that were introduced to manage the NHS’ finances are not sustainable. The Department of Health and Social Care continues to provide some trusts with short-term loans just to meet their day-to-day costs with little hope they will be repaid. This is not a sustainable way to run public bodies,” said Gareth Davies, head of the NAO.
The reports call the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England and NHS Improvement to revamp the way the system is funded, suggesting to develop a clear long-term capital funding strategy and to establish a more stable funding system that is not reliant on loans.