The NHS should manage to hit its forecast position of a small surplus at the end of this year, according to this week's Department of Health figures. Not that it will be thanked or even believed. Within a few hours of the report being released on Tuesday, the protests began - basically that it was a dodgy figure achieved by slash and burn tactics.

The NHS should manage to hit its forecast position of a small surplus at the end of this year, according to this week's Department of Health figures. Not that it will be thanked or even believed. Within a few hours of the report being released on Tuesday, the protests began - basically that it was a dodgy figure achieved by slash and burn tactics.

Behind the rhetoric, what does the report show? The figures do not by themselves demonstrate either way whether NHS organisations are managing their money sustainably. That will only become apparent over the next two years. Although there is growing bullishness in the DoH about delivering what it promised, there is no dramatic change in solvency shown in the figures - the percentage of trusts in deficit is roughly the same as quarter two.

In general the report is an endorsement of strategic health authority performance in forecasting and managing savings - only NHS East of England is doing worse than it forecast three months ago and represents a danger that continuing variance could push the whole plan off course.

The DoH will be pleased that SHAs are reporting earlier repayment on top-slicing and the fact that most in-deficit trusts are doing better in-year than in 2005-06.

What the report does not suggest is that the NHS will need to bring its spending to a sickeningly sudden halt in the last few months to squeeze in under the wire, as many feared would happen. This means the much-disliked resource accounting and budgeting system is very likely to go next year - the report for the first time measures explicitly in-year performance, in other words minus the effects of RAB.

The danger remains that a small surplus and the removal of RAB may take finance off the top of everyone's agenda next year but before individual trusts have got a genuine handle on their money.