NHS England trusts racked up a record £1.6 billion deficit in the first six months of the financial year, official figures showed yesterday.
Reliance on expensive agency staff, which have cost a total of £1.86 billion since April, is continuing to have “an extremely detrimental effect” on public healthcare budgets, said health services regulator Monitor.
Some trusts argue that they turn to agency doctors and nurses because they are struggling to fill gaps in their rotas due to a lack of available staff members employed directly by the NHS.
Another concern is delayed transfers of care — costing £270 million so far this year — in which recovered patients are kept in wards because the support they need is not available in their community, the report added.
Furthermore, the trusts predict that they will end up with £2.2 billion total debt by next April, with 156 out of 239 of them recording deficits, Monitor said.
The current deficit is almost twice the £820 million overspend in the entire previous year.
Richard Murray, policy director at health charity King’s Fund, said the “unprecedented financial meltdown” had been caused by the Tory government neglecting the NHS.
He added: “Deficits on this scale cannot be attributed to mismanagement or inefficiency.
“Quite simply, it is no longer possible for the vast majority of NHS providers to maintain standards of care and balance their budgets.”
The NHS is now seeing the largest sustained fall in investment as a share of GDP since 1951, according to Mr Murray.
Agency spending is being capped to mitigate deficits, with new hourly price limits on the amount that temporary medics can earn, the government said.
Controls on spending on expensive management consultants also came into force in the summer and are expected to have an impact by the end of the year, it added.
Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said that the figures “paint a worryingly bleak picture of an NHS” and that recruiting more permanent medics was key to keeping the health service running efficiently.
She added: “Ministers must accept that their cuts to nurse training commissions, which created a shortage of qualified nursing staff, was a monumental mistake which is now costing the NHS dear.”
Despite the damning report, a Department of Health spokesman claimed to be “confident” that it would end the year in “financial balance.”