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England’s health department avoids breaching budget on “technicality”

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4083 (Published 22 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4083
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. London

The Department of Health for England came within a whisker of breaching the budgets given to it by parliament in 2015-16, show details released on Friday 21 July. In the event it avoided an overspend—the ultimate embarrassment to a government department—by the frantic shifting of funds and failing to disclose to the Treasury the receipt of an unexpected £417m (€500m; $550m) in national insurance contributions.

Had it made the disclosure, Her Majesty’s Treasury or parliament might have decided to subtract the £417m from funds voted to the department, turning a year end surplus of £210m into a deficit of £207m. The department said that an “administrative error” caused the failure to disclose the extra funds, and the Treasury has agreed to turn a blind eye.

The announcement of the financial near miss came on the same day that the NHS was forced to put its largest trust, Barts Health NHS Trust, into financial …

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