The final payment by results tariff for 2009-10 will be published in January, around three months late.

It has been delayed due to the introduction of hundreds of procedure codes and prices into the tariff, collectively known as HRG4.

The codes should be good news for hospitals that do more complicated work. But testing has revealed this is not always the case, partly because trusts have not coded their activity correctly. There have been concerns there could be a re-run of the 2006-07 chaos when the tariff was published one week before the start of the financial year.

In a letter to strategic health authority chiefs earlier this month, the Department of Health’s director general of NHS finance, performance and operations David Flory said a draft version of the tariff would be available for “road testing” from the second week in December. The final, corrected version will be published mid-January.

Appropriate rewards

Mr Flory said: “HRG4 allows better targeting of funds so those centres which carry out more complex work are properly rewarded.” But he warned: “The money will only follow the work where coding systems are up to date and accurate.”

He said the new tariff would not apply to accident and emergency activity as data was not reliable. A&E will continue to base charges on the HRG3.5 tariff. But he said he would remove risk-sharing arrangements that have protected primary care trusts from unexpected increases in A&E attendances or emergency admissions. He said PCTs had now had time to adjust to the tariff and their reorganisation.

Commenting on the delays, NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards said: “People would rather have it right than fast. They have to avoid a re-run of the last episode and that is a risk.”