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NHS "underspent by £500m amid cuts"

A new row is brewing amid reports the NHS underspent by nearly half a billion pounds last year after a series of cutbacks.

The Department of Health will announce provisional results for 2006-07 next month, but the Guardian claims that it has calculated the underspend from information provided by the strategic health authorities.

The newspaper said the figure is causing fury among union leaders, who blame it on a squeeze on spending during the winter months, when many NHS trusts economised by closing wards, laid off staff and delayed operations until the start of the new financial year.

The biggest underspend was in the North West, where the NHS ended the year with £161m to spare.

Other major surpluses include Yorkshire and Humberside, with £116m, London with £92m and £73m in the North East.

The newspaper estimates the total underspend at £456.8m, and taking into account NHS foundation trusts, it could top £500m.

Janet Davies, executive director of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "At the very least the Government should deliver the £60m needed to honour this year's pay rise in full.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The NHS ended last year with a deficit of over £500m.

"This was unacceptable, and we introduced new rigour and discipline in order to put the NHS on a sound financial footing for the future."

Copyright © PA Business 2007

Department of Health