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'Iron out NHS's variations'

The NHS is going to have to tackle wide variations in GP referral and prescribing rates and differences in PCTs' spending decisions to ensure a viable future.

That is the view of a King's Fund report published last week, which warned that the NHS needed to be on a

sound financial footing by

2008 when Government investment in the NHS is due to slow down.

The report Funding Healthcare: 2008 and Beyond said this meant tackling unexplained variations in performance to

secure productivity gains.

Doctors needed to be offered motivational as well as financial incentives to improve performance and should also be more involved in the management of the NHS, it added.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, said: 'The focus must be on improving productivity, tackling variations in performance and setting the right incentives for both staff and institutions.'

The report came only days after publication of NHS quarterly figures showing that, despite the NHS as a whole being able to balance its books by the end of the financial year, nearly half of PCTs forecast a deficit.

Such PCTs contacted by Pulse said they planned tighter con-trols on providers and shifting more services out of hospital.

Hillingdon PCT, which has an £11m deficit, is cutting 30 administrative posts. Leicestershire East Riding of Yorkshire PCT, which has a £10.2m deficit, will ensure generics are used where possible.

County and Rutland PCT,

facing a £33.8m shortfall, also plans to target prescribing to ensure it is 'in line with best practice guidance'.

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