Primary care trusts (PCTs) are being urged to balance their books after parliamentary figures showed that more than one in five health service organisations remain in deficit.
The NHS did achieve a surplus of £515m in 2006–07 after two years in the red, but there were large variations in performance between different trusts and different parts of the country, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found.
After 82 of the 372 NHS organisations in England recorded deficits totalling £917m – 80% of which was accounted for by just 10% of NHS bodies – the PAC warned that the service as a whole may not yet be on the road to long-term financial health.
In 2004/05 the system recorded an overall deficit of more than £500m, rising to almost £800m the following year. The 2006/07 accounts were returned to the black largely by the Department of Health requiring strategic health authorities to top-slice PCT budgets and divert cash earmarked for training.
"Even though the overall quality of healthcare looks to have been improved, some PCTs limited the amount of healthcare they delivered either to make savings or because their budgets were cut," said PAC chairman Edward Leigh.