HEALTH chiefs in the region warned of a possible £45 million black hole in their finances.

They hope that a slice of £1.6bn government funding promised for the NHS at the autumn budget could help close the gap – branded a “massive deficit” by one GP.

But a director for the NHS group responsible for commissioning Swindon healthcare warned that it wasn’t clear what could be done to close the gap – unless government could pick up the tab.

The red flag came after NHS England met health chiefs across Swindon, Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset earlier this month. 

In the meeting – organised by the area’s NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership – the national health representatives expressed concern about the financial position of NHS organisations across the area.

Nicki Millin, accountable officer for Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group, said that there had been a “particular conversation” on finance.

She told a meeting of the CCG’s governing body that representatives from NHS England and NHS Improvement had flagged a £100 million income hole for all NHS providers and commissioners in Bath, Somerset, Wiltshire and Swindon. 

“If you look at what each organisation historically has managed to deliver in terms of savings plans, that equates to about £55m,” she said.

“That means there is a gap of somewhere about £45m. 

“As organisations sitting in that room we couldn’t describe to NHS England how that gap would be closed.”

Ms Millin said that local health bosses had attempted to explain that fluctuations in the number of patients using services could help “deliver services differently” and result in further savings.

“That was not accepted as an excuse and therefore we need to consider very carefully what else are we going to do,” she added.

NHS England has demanded that the STP develop a plan by April for meeting the £45m shortfall. Another meeting will be held in spring.

It was suggested that government funding – pledged for the NHS in the autumn budget – could close the gap. 

A further £1.6bn will be provided for day-to-day NHS spending in England next financial year.

But Swindon health chiefs are still waiting for NHS England planning guidance setting out how the money could be spent.

The CCG’s Nicki Millin said: “Because we’ve not had the planning guidance, we don’t understand the impact of that yet. I would anticipate that would close that gap, but I don’t know by how much.

“As leaders, we are concerned about what we would do to close it further if there isn’t additional funding.”

Dr Sarah Bruen, a Highworth GP who sits on the CCG’s governing body, asked whether Swindon’s MPs had been contacted to raise concerns about the £45m deficit.

She said: “Are we going back to government to say ‘This is a massive deficit we’re going to struggle to meet, is there any more potential funding that can come from government to help?’.”

Dr Bruen was “right to be concerned”, Ms Millin said. “It is a massive challenge.”

Chris Bown, senior responsible officer for the STP, said: “Like the rest of the NHS and public sector, the BSW STP is facing huge financial challenges and we will be working with all our partners to ensure those are addressed, whilst ensuring we continue to provide high quality health and social care for our population.

“As each of the organisations involved in our partnership finds it more difficult to make savings, we are exploring all opportunities to work together more effectively and efficiently by providing services differently. We are still at an early stage in the development of these plans but our priority is to make sure we transform services for everyone’s benefit and the involvement of our local communities, patients, clinicians and other stakeholders will be critical to achieving this.”