The government has embarked on a media offensive promoting the importance of reform as it posted year-end figures showing a net deficit for the NHS of just over£500m.
The figure emerged in the same week that the Department of Health began recruitment to fill the top job in the NHS. The advertisement in today's HSJ for a new chief executive for the service calls for a 'world class leader who can drive through the necessary reforms to create an NHS true to its founding values'.
But the position of chief executive has been split from that of permanent secretary, a post which will be advertised at a future date.
Yesterday, parliament was due to hear that the NHS had recorded a net deficit of£512m, after a gross deficit of£1.28bn was partly balanced by a gross surplus of£765m. In addition, the 32 foundation trusts recorded a net deficit of£8m or£24m when asset depreciation was taken into account.
The 2005-06 financial position emerged in a week of media offensives focused on NHS reform and innovation.
On Tuesday, prime minister Tony Blair met chief executives from 15 foundation trusts and directors of FTSE100 companies and announced a new programme to forge links between business and the NHS and encourage business leaders to give their 'time and expertise' to improve health services.
He said it was time to 'break the notion' that public and private sectors had 'contradictory value systems'. But some from industry stressed that they would expect to be clear about what they would gain from such initiatives, and cautioned against mere 'well-intentioned ideas'.
University Hospital Birmingham foundation trust chief executive Mark Britnell used the event to press the prime minister to 'send a message' about performance-related pay for consultants. Mr Britnell, who is to become chief executive of South Central strategic health authority next month, said the trust had been involved in negotiations with 'consultants and their unions' about linking pay progression to patient satisfaction. He said the moves had 'met the kind of objections you would imagine'. He said: 'We are not giving up, but it feels like a lonely place. If you can support [trusts] in this we would be most grateful.'
Later that morning, Mr Blair promised delegates at a public sector conference that the government would back people in public service who make difficult decisions. 'It is no good if they take the decisions but the politicians do not back them. We have got to get to a situation in the public services where it is natural for people to experiment and innovate, and get all the backing that they need from politicians.'
The year-end unaudited figures were published as part of the chief executive's bi-annual report to the NHS, the first authored by acting chief executive Sir Ian Carruthers.
In an interview with HSJ, Sir Ian warned that trusts who were not able to tackle long-term debts within two years were unlikely to be acting with sufficient 'vigour'.
The Audit Commission was yesterday due to publish its report on audited NHS figures for 2004-05, as well as an update on the unaudited figures for last year.