Slashing the amount spent on NHS staff training to tackle deficits is unacceptable, the Commons health select committee has warned.
In a damning report on NHS deficits, MPs conclude that cuts in the budget for the education of health workers are having adverse effects on staff morale and could have a significant effect on the quality of the workforce.
MPs also found 'compelling evidence of a failure of financial management'.
'The most basic errors have been made; there are too many examples of poor financial information, inadequate monitoring and an absence of financial control,' the report says.
Committee chair Kevin Barron MP said: 'It is important that we should all know what the NHS costs, and not just what it spends.
'I hope the rush for balancing all NHS budgets does not mean further top-slicing next year,' he added.
The report is scathing of the Department of Health's 'hopelessly unrealistic' estimate of the cost of Agenda for Changeand the consultant contract. 'The growth in staff costs points to serious and underlying failures in the financial management of the health service, which have occurred at all levels of the organisation, from the DoH to primary care trusts,' it says.
The report said that despite DoH promises to get the NHS into surplus by March 2007 it is unlikely trusts with the biggest deficits will break even within five years.
The committee also said the resource accounting and budgeting regime should be replaced or refined. It described current arrangements such as 'continued top-slicing' and the creation of a contingency fund as 'an admission by the DoH that individual trusts would remain in deficit and that it had the ability, and the willingness to 'bail them out'.