A clean bill of health.

Colin Reeves, director of finance and performance at the NHS, said this week he was optimistic that health authorities and trusts will have their accounts signed off unqualified for the sixth year running, despite ongoing negotiations to overcome last-minute obstacles. Accountancy Age understands that discussions are continuing with the Audit Commission, the National Audit Office and the Treasury to overcome four remaining stumbling blocks. Senior managers, however, are thought to believe the problems are surmountable and remain optimistic that every health authority and trust will remain unqualified for the year 1999/2000. Difficulties remain over well-documented issues. A three-month backlog continues at the Prescription Pricing Authority creating problems in the supply of data needed by health authorities to complete accounts. This is understood to have resulted from the rising cost of certain generic drugs brought about by shortages. However, it is believed the Audit Commission is close to settling the issue with the NHS. Recently published fraud figures have also created a problem by suggesting health authorities have understated potential income. Managers have described this as being ‘a victim of their own success’. The more fraud they uncover, the greater the possible understatement in health authority accounts. There are also concerns that up to a dozen health trusts will not meet their three-year break-even obligations. This is understood to be due to consolidation in the sector which requires later break-even deadlines. The last issue to be overcome involves PFI projects and a retrospective accounting exercise to determine whether they should be on or off the balance sheet. Reeves told Accountancy Age: ‘The NHS executive remains confident that these problems can be resolved and that a record sixth successive year of unqualified accounts can be achieved.’

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