Published: 09/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5804 Page 8

NHS bodies in Scotland should be able to balance the books without one-off cash injections, according to a powerful committee of MSPs.

The Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament said the system should be able to 'sustain its financial management' without additional funds like the£90m awarded last September to 'wipe the slate clean'.

The report, published last Thursday, contained several warnings about the financial position of the NHS in Scotland. It concluded: 'We are greatly concerned with the emerging pictures of trusts'deficits building up year after year.'

It added: 'Despite the extra money made available by the department in September 2001, the fact is that continuing deficits are forecast for this year, which leads us to conclude that severe underlying pressures remain.'

The report follows an investigation by the Audit Committee into the NHS accounts for 2000-01, which involved questioning senior Scottish Executive officials as well as managers from areas including Grampian and Argyll and Clyde.

The committee said it was surprised there was no plan for tackling financial problems in Grampian, which forecasts the largest accumulated deficit in the NHS in Scotland (£12.4m in three years' time).

It said: 'We call upon the Department [of Health] to identify areas in which such deficits are expected to build up and to begin discussions with the relevant bodies on tackling such expected deficits.'

But the report added: 'It is reasonable to assume that the type of pressures acting upon Grampian University Hospitals trust are being experienced in other areas. If the pressures in Grampian are scaled up to a national level, it is not difficult to envisage service cost problems which are not budgeted for in the base budget on NHS Scotland.'

The committee called on the health department to investigate and ensure that trusts were equipped to face the 'challenge'.

Audit Committee convener Andrew Welsh said: 'Though inyear deficits represent a small percentage of the overall NHS budget, evidence to our committee strongly suggests that severe underlying financial pressure remains. Our committee, therefore, wants to see notable improvement made to financial balances.'

The report expressed concern with delays in services provided by the Common Services Agency of the NHS, which has been beset by computer problems.

A Scottish Executive spokesperson said: 'We will look at the report in detail and respond in due course.'