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Hunt is accused of “underhand” cover up over health department finances

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4109 (Published 22 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4109
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has accused England’s health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, of “an underhand attempt” to cover up the poor state of the Department of Health’s finances, by timing their publication at the end of the current parliamentary session.

The health department’s annual accounts were published on Thursday 21 July, the day that parliament rose for its summer break. The accounts showed that the department avoided an overspend only because of an unexpected £417m (€500m; $550m) in national insurance contributions it had failed to declare to Her Majesty’s Treasury.

The department blamed the failure to declare the windfall, which turned a potential £207m deficit into a £210m surplus, on “an administrative error.”

In a letter to Hunt, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, accused the department of deliberately obscuring the parlous state of its finances. Hillier wrote, “I write to express dismay that you published your department’s accounts today—the day that parliament rises for summer recess.

“This does not allow MPs to consider the accounts before recess and smacks of an underhand attempt to cover up the poor state of finances in your department.”

The publication of the accounts came on the same day that the NHS placed five hospital trusts and nine clinical commissioning groups into financial special measures as part of a major bid to restore fiscal discipline across the NHS.

Hillier’s letter said that deficits among NHS trusts had increased “at a staggering rate” in the past year and cited the National Audit Office’s finding that the measures the health department had set out to balance the books for 2015-16 “have been short term measures and do not provide a good basis for a sustainable long term budget.”

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