Gordon Brown has hailed figures showing the NHS is on course to record a surplus of nearly £1bn this year, despite warnings of cutbacks and job losses.
The NHS forecast shows a £983m surplus at the end of the financial year, compared with the £510m surplus recorded last year. But the statistics showed that 22 NHS trusts were in deficit. Some recorded a worsening financial position while others went into the red for the first time.
The Prime Minister, who toured a medical centre in Vauxhall, south London, yesterday, said the surplus would be ploughed back into patient care. "We are talking about more access, more money to tackle hospital infections and measures to ensure people get the best personal care," he said. "People know that the health service has 80,000 more nurses and 20,000 more doctors and we are building more hospitals. Some have already been completed.
"People do understand the health service is getting better but it is going to get even better."
But Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: "It is, of course, very important that the NHS is on a firm financial footing but we have to ask at what cost this has been achieved.
"In our view, freezing and deleting health workers' posts, cutting services to patients and raiding training budgets is not the right way to balance the books.
"We now have a curious situation where the NHS is forecasting a surplus of nearly a billion pounds but is unable to find jobs for thousands of newly-qualified nurses desperate to put their new-found skills and commitment to work."
Mike Jackson, senior national officer for the giant public sector union Unison, said: "Undoubtedly the NHS is in a stronger financial position, but the under-spend of almost a billion pounds has led to a lot of unnecessary heartache.
The shadow Health minister, Stephen O'Brien, added: "Public health budgets have been slashed to pay for Labour's financial mismanagement of the NHS."