Patients 'suffer for financial failings'
Health bosses are increasingly failing to balance their books, to the detriment of patients, a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office has found.
The report released today warned that health and social care in Northern Ireland are facing an "unprecedented financial challenge to manage" within limited resources.
Various measures have been taken to address the financial pressures, however the financial health of NHS bodies "is weak and declining", Auditor General Kieran Donnelly warned.
The scale of financial difficulty facing Trusts was so severe in 2013-14 that they relied on additional funding. However, this led to them carrying forward an underlying deficit of £115m into 2014-15.
According to the report, health and social care bodies have found it "increasingly more difficult to balance their budgets in the face of rising inflationary cost pressures, demographic pressures from an increasing and aging population."
"While additional funding allocations have helped Trusts to achieve financial balance over recent years, this has masked, rather than addressed, underlying financial pressures," Mr Donnelly said.
Due to the financial strain it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet inpatient, outpatient and emergency department waiting time targets. Of particular concern is cancer waiting time targets, the report found.
Also adding to the health sector's financial difficulties is the level of clinical and social care negligence claims. Approximately 83,000 adverse incidents are reported each year. Over two years, up to March 2014, 828 incidents of a "serious" nature were reported.
During that time 446 clinical and social care negligence claims were settled, at a cost of over £81m. The anticipated liability on 3,000 outstanding claims has been estimated at just over £121m.