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Patients also face longer waiting times for treatments, as the NHS deficit for the last financial year is revealed to be twice as high as expected.

Hospital overspending was expected to reach £469m, but the NHS Improvement (NHSI), which acts as the health service’s financial regulator has revealed that end of year financial figures are closer to £1bn.

The 234 NHS Trusts were revealed to have a net deficit of £960m, £464m more than expected.

The bulk of this was made up by a £1.7bn deficit among acute hospital trusts – the only ones with A&E departments – where 89 of 136 organisations were in the red.

Increased patient demand, including large-scale tragedies in Grenfell, London and Manchester, as well as a challenging winter period and recent cyber-attacks have all contributed to unexpected overspending.

The increased pressure on A&E services also meant that hospitals had to cancel non-urgent elective care cases until the end of January.

Figures show that more than 5.87 million people went to A&E in January, February and March 2018 – around 220,000 more than the same period last year.

Ambulance and mental health trusts were the only areas where the NHS collectively underspent. 156 of the 234 trusts also finished the year either reaching or exceeding their financial targets.

Hospitals have also been unable to hit waiting time targets for A&E, diagnostic tests and even some cancer treatments. More than 2,600 patients waited over a year for non-urgent treatments in 2017-18, a 75% rise from the year before.

Just 88.4% of patients were seen within four hours of attending A&E – a drop from the previous year. Additionally, only five A&E departments managed to meet the target of seeing 95% of patients within four hours in January, February and March.

Trusts were also put under strain as they sought to fill 100,000 full-time vacancies because many employees quit, or reduced their hours.

Sally Gainsbury, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Nuffield Trust has said –“as we have previously warned, there is a widening gap between what we are asking the NHS to do and what we are funding it to do.”

She continued, “while hospitals and other NHS services did make efficiency savings over the year, the vast bulk of those savings were needed just to stop the black hole getting any deeper. Essentially, services are having to run to just stand still, or even move slightly backwards.”

“The real underlying deficit is likely to remain very similar to where it was at the start of the year – at around £4bn, which is inevitable as long as we continue to systematically pay hospitals and other services less than the cost of actually delivering care.”

Senior doctors have warned that at least £7bn in additional funding is needed to support the NHS; fuelling claims that the government is severely underfunding the health service. They have called for a 4% rise in the NHS and social care budgets each year, for more than a decade, in order to reach a settlement that “goes beyond managing short-term crises”.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Theresa May and Philip Hammond cannot allow this financial knife-edge to continue.

“Whether the Chancellor announces the extra funding in time for the NHS anniversary this summer or waits until the autumn Budget, it must be both substantial and genuinely new money.”

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