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Number of NHS foundation trusts in deficit increasing, says Monitor

The number of NHS foundation trusts in deficit in England has almost doubled in a year, according to new figures by the health service regulator Monitor.

The regulator recorded 39 trusts in deficit as part of its latest quarterly report; considerably more than the 24 it expected to be in deficit and almost double the 21 trusts in deficit at the end of 2012. However, it noted that 17 of those trusts had "very small" deficits, while 60% of the combined £180 million figure was attributable to five organisations which were already the subject of regulatory action.

The report concluded that the 147 foundation trusts, were "performing well in providing quality services to patients in challenging economic times". However, noting some of the latest figures on waiting times for key treatments, financial reporting director Jason Dorsett warned that trusts needed to "up their game".

"All trusts need to up their game in delivering efficiency savings this year in order to maintain and improve the quality of care for patients, and ensure the sustainability of services," he said. "The foundation trust sector is doing remarkably well in tough circumstances but is looking a little frayed at the edges."

According to the report, 18 trusts missed a target that 85% of suspected cancer patients should start treatment within 62 days between October and December 2013. Although three other waiting times targets were met overall by trusts, the report found that performance was worse than at the same time last year. However, fewer trusts missed the four-hour A&E waiting times target compared to last year.

NHS foundation trusts are those which have been granted a certain amount of independence from the Department of Health. They now make up around two thirds of England's hospitals.

According to the figures, England's foundation trusts remain in overall surplus, although the current figure of £135m is less than the £173m that was planned for this stage of the financial year and less than half of the combined surplus at this time last year. Together, the trusts have delivered £867m in efficiency savings; 18% behind the figure planned for at this stage.

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