HEALTH chiefs met in Oxford to agonize over fresh spending cuts as the full scale of the NHS funding crisis in the UK was revealed.

Last Thursday board members at Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) approved savings to plug an unexpected £17m black hole in 2017/18.

Chief executive David Smith said this year the CCG received £50m from NHS England, a 7.5 per cent increase in growth funds, but next year would receive just £13m - not enough to keep pace with the growth in demand and cost of services in Oxfordshire.

He said: "It's obvious to everybody that if we are struggling with our figures this year, if that's reduced down next year we have a very, very big problem.

"We are trying to do a lot of this with our hands tied behind out backs. That's why we are around this table; if we don't do it, no-one else will."

Following a moratorium on uncommitted spending announced in July, the board agreed to use £12m of contingency reserves, including extra winter funds.

Up to £9.7m could be taken from savings in other areas, including investment for GPs, child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and end-of-life programmes.

Over the coming weeks a task force will assess where savings can be made in the CCG's budget.

A proposed £2m to be taken from investments in GPs has already been vetoed.

Joan Stuart, of the Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public campaign, addressed board members during the meeting.

She said: "We don't seem to see any impact that these cuts - because that's what they are - will have on patient services.

"We are talking about closures and reductions of service.

"You are professionals and we expect more of you, and we will ask that you challenge this vigorously on our behalf."

The CCG is also facing a struggle next year as an additional £8m above its budgeted sum has been required to agree a block contract with OUHFT.

At the same time a dark picture is emerging nationally of services in 2017/18 after it emerged that last year the NHS recorded a deficit of £2.45bn.

Regulator NHS Improvement has asked local health bosses to identify which services should be centralised to tackle staff shortages and financial issues.

Currently 44 areas of England known as 'Footprints' - one of which which is Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and West Berkshire- are also being asked by NHS England to develop "sustainability and transformation plans" to balance the books by 2020/21, the details of which have yet to be disclosed.

According to the 38 Degrees campaign group, the "BOB" footprint covering our county will face a £511m shortfall by 2021.

Director Laura Townshend said: “These proposed cuts aren’t the fault of local NHS leaders.

"Local people in Oxfordshire should get a say in any changes to their local services."

-On P12 of today's Oxford Mail Healthwatch Oxfordshire Eddie Duller writes about the impact of potential changes to maternity care at the Horton General Hospital.