A snapshot of the NHS on the eve of the new millennium may record for posterity a vivid image of the money worries which have dogged much of its existence.

For according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association, the service will start 2000 with a huge funding headache - a deficit which could reach£200m by the end of the financial year in March, and which appears to be resisting the contingency measures so far deployed to control it.

The shortfall is much greater than the NHS Executive predicted at the end of the first quarter.

Chancellor Gordon Brown was making his pre-Budget statement as HSJ went to press Wi l l he hold out hope of salvation? Or will he consider he did his bit last year after the comprehensive spending review, and insist the NHS will have to put up and shut up?

Like their Conservative predecessors, ministers are finding that however generous they think they have been with the NHS, it always comes back for more. The Tories eventually lost patience and tried a radical solution. Will Labour be tempted to do the same - after the election, perhaps?