NHS providers and the Department of Health are set for major clashes over stringent financial targets, which could ultimately result in significant disciplinary action.
As the department moves to enforce financial conditions over the health service as a whole, numerous hospital board could ultimately be suspended over plans for rebellion.
Hospitals and other NHS services were told last month they would have to eliminate soaring budget deficits by the end of the next financial year.
And the Department of Health has further warned that boards which fail to adequately cut expenses could forfeit their share of the £1.8 billion in new funding and risk takeover that has already been promised by health sector regulators.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers umbrella group, has already commented that hospitals that meet the demands of regulators will do so “with conditions, or with a heavy warning around the level of risk that is being run”.
Such is the stringent new regime that the Department of Health will impose on health sector institutions in the immediate future.
The NHS provider sector in England – which includes hospitals, mental health, community and ambulance services – had anticipated a deficit of well over £2 billion by the end of this financial year.
But recent news has indicated that even this pessimistic estimate appears to be shy of the real figure, with a deficit in the region of £3 billion now likely.
In addition, many finance directors have warned that the new spending targets demanded of hospitals for 2016/17 are unrealistic.
Commenting on the issue, a spokesperson for NHS Improvement suggested that financial conditions may be challenging for NHS organisations, but that both the government and Department of Health will provide all the necessary support to ensure that such institutions thrive.
“There is extra funding being pumped into the NHS to help us deal with the financial and operational challenges the service is facing, but providers need to do their bit too. We have set them challenging, but achievable targets so we can to get to grips with the short-term financial challenge and help provide the stability the health service needs to bring about meaningful and lasting change for patients.”
The spokesperson also pointed out that “a majority of providers have agreed to the new control totals and we are in an intensive period of reviewing and discussing progress with trusts as they finalise their financial plans.”