NHS hospitals are coming under pressure to “cook the books” and underplay the scale of their deficits, a whistleblowing finance director has told MPs.
In anonymous evidence to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, the finance director of an unnamed district general hospital says they have become “very concerned” that national regulators are “pressurising NHS providers to potentially mislead the public and Government departments over their true, underlying financial performance”.
The hospital sector is expecting to breach its target of a £1.8bn controlled deficit this financial year, with the National Audit Office projecting the total could be £2.2bn.
However, in their evidence to MPs, the anonymous finance director warns that the overall deficit for NHS providers in England could be as high as £2.9bn – a figure which one leading expert said would not be surprising.
In strict new edicts last month, the Department of Health said that NHS trusts must eliminate their deficits by the end of the next financial year or miss out on £1.8bn of new funding. Entire boards could be suspended at hospitals which fail to balance the books and maintain care standards, officials said, while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned failure “was not an option”.
In their evidence to MPs, the anonymous finance director refers to a case in which an NHS accountant was jailed for fraudulently amending a valuation report in 2008 and writes: “My fear is that some FDs may be pressurised into taking the wrong judgements and making inaccurate claims to keep the regulator at bay…I fear for FDs being put under similar pressure to ‘cook the books’.”
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