A further drive towards preventing ill health in Somerset is needed after the group which control’s the county’s health budget posted a six-figure deficit.

The Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which decides how and where health funding is spent in Somerset, has overspent by more than £540,000 in the last 12 months.

When the county’s three foundation trusts are taken into account (Yeovil Hospital, Musgrove Park Hospital and the Somerset Partnership), the “system-wide” deficit rises to £19.4M.

The CCG, which is based in Yeovil, has said that this overspend is largely due to “unscheduled care” and has said that it remains below the maximum deficit level agreed by NHS England.

The organisation has said that it will working with the trusts to balance the books over a three-year period, reducing admissions through a greater emphasis on prevention and enabling more people to receive care in their homes or communities.

The CCG’s budget came before its governing body at a meeting on Taunton on Thursday afternoon (May 24).

The county had a budget of £736,572,000 for 2017/18, but its net operating costs amounted to £737,112,000 – resulting in a deficit of £540,000, or 0.07 per cent of its budget.

The CCG is allowed by NHS England to run a deficit of up to £1,748,000 – known as its control total – but is encouraged to reduce its deficit whenever they occur.

The CCG has said that, in spite of real term, year-on-year funding increases from central government, demand for services “continues to outstrip current funding levels.”

A spokesman said: “If the NHS is to be financially sustainable in future years, it must do more to address this rising demand for health care by preventing ill health, doing more to help people lead healthier lives and encouraging people, through health screening programmes (e.g. cervical screening, breast screening, bowel screening, diabetic eye screening), to have medical treatment at the earliest stages of their disease, not leaving problems so late that little more extensive treatment is the only option.”

The CCG will be working with the foundation trusts on “joint planning” between now and 2021, trying to ensure that the books are balanced after this three-year period.

A large part of the focus will be on improving care for people living with multiple long-term health problems, and ensuring that there are fewer instances of “unscheduled care”, where such people are admitted to acute hospitals rather than being treated in the community.

The spokesman said: “It is estimated that just five per cent of the Somerset population (c. 30,000 people), living with three or more long-term health conditions (like heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and dementia ) call upon 50 per cent of the Somerset CCG’s annual health budget.

“When supported effectively and the patient’s health conditions closely monitored by their community nurse, therapist or GP, they can live well in their own home or the community.

“Patients living with multiple health problems, can become ill very quickly and are prone to frequent admissions to hospital each month. This is disruptive for the patient and wider health care system.

“Preventing unnecessary admissions to hospital is therefore a top priority, so that much needed money and staff resources can be release and used support other aspects of service, like reducing routine hospital waiting times.”