NHS goes further into the red with deficit of nearly £900,000,000
(Picture: Getty)

NHS trusts reported a third-quarter year-end deficit of £886 million against a target year-end deficit of £580 million, new data shows.

Earlier, a senior Tory peer recommended that a Royal Commission be set up to examine the long-term future of the National Health Service.

Former Conservative chairman Lord Saatchi said a commission could take the issue out of politics and ‘detoxify’ any reforms that needed to be made.

His recommendations come on the eve of figures being published that are expected to show the parlous state of English NHS finances.

In a paper for the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Lord Saatchi said: ‘There is a wide range of perspectives on the current performance of the NHS, and varied confidence in its long-term future, from the pessimistic view that the system is in crisis, to the optimistic position that its only threats are meddling politicians. A Royal Commission offers significant benefits regardless of the position taken.

‘A Royal Commission is an opportunity to help reverse a deterioration in some clinical outcomes, to identify and eliminate barriers to equal access, and to ensure that trusts are adequately funded to cope with current demand pressures. The solutions it arrives at could help to avert the kind of distress seen throughout the system over the 2016-17 winter.’

The advantages of a commission, rather than any other sort of inquiry, include ‘the ability to secure the bipartisan support needed to embed lasting changes, to detoxify reforms that otherwise may be too politically dangerous to pursue, and to deploy its unique investigatory power to establish what reforms are needed to ensure that we have a world-class, 21st century, health system’.

Lord Saatchi said: ‘A commission’s investigatory powers and capacity to provide evidenced-based review, free from the constraints of the immediate political cycle, allow it to craft solutions that command the support of practitioners and politicians alike. When set up properly, its recommendations carry a unique legitimacy that could be essential to securing a lasting, bipartisan settlement on the NHS.

‘The looming challenges facing the NHS present a unique opportunity to think seriously about what kind of healthcare is expected in 21st Century Britain; and what steps need to be taken to get there. As we approach the NHS’s 70th birthday, it would be reckless not to seek a full body check-up – the first in decades – if we want to guarantee another 70 years of world-class healthcare.’

The call comes ahead of the publication on Monday of NHS Improvement’s figures for the third quarter of 2016-17.

NHS Improvement’s chief Jim Mackey has acknowledged that trusts will miss the £580 million deficit ‘control target’ and forecasters have predicted the combined black hole in their finances could reach nearly £1 billion by the end of the year.

Responses to the King’s Fund think tank’s latest survey of NHS finance directors, carried out in late January and early February, makes for ‘uncomfortable reading’, its director of policy Richard Murray said.

‘They suggests that the forecast net deficit has risen by about 30% since the autumn, when NHS Improvement’s quarter two report showed a net deficit for the year of £669 million.

‘Simply applying one number to the other would give a 2016-17 net provider deficit somewhere between the £820 million to £920 million mark.’

Mr Murray suggested it was a ‘big ask’ to expect trusts to recover ground over the remainder of the year, given the scale of the winter crisis.