NHS commissioners recorded a net underspend of £902m at the end of 2016-17, covering off a provider sector deficit of £791m.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens revealed the combined outturn of his organisation and clinical commissioning groups in his speech at the NHS Confederation conference today.

The commissioning sector underspend includes the £800m “risk reserve” the Treasury required NHS England and CCGs to hold back in 2016-17 to balance an anticipated provider deficit.

It suggests the NHS overall underspent by slightly more than £100m.

This is a significant improvement on 2015-16 when the net reported NHS overspend was £1.8bn, resulting in the Department of Health overspending against its revenue budget by £200m.

However, 2016-17 saw relatively large real terms growth in the English NHS budget of £3.8bn – £1.8bn of which went into the national sustainability and transformation fund – while in 2017-18 there is just £1.5bn growth, and it is due to fall again next year.

The DH has not yet published its accounts for 2016-17.

Mr Stevens said in the past two years the commissioning system had recorded underspends of around £250m, then around £500m.

He said: “The DH will have, in the round, balanced its budget in what will obviously have been a difficult year.

“Together I think we’ve got an awful lot to be proud of… But the bad news is unfortunately we’ve got to do it again. And we’ve got a clear set of actions we know we need to take.

“If we don’t get financial balance in the system, that’s going to crowd out our ability to do so much else we want and it’s also going to undermine our argument that we’re effective stewards of further funding.”

Pressed about whether the NHS needed more funding, Mr Stevens said: “Over time if the country wants to have a brilliant health service it’s going to have to resource it. That has always been true.”