Survey reveals one in five trusts pay only 1% of bills within 10-day target period set to help small firms

A survey has found “astonishing” differences in the amount of time taken by different health trusts to pay their suppliers.

Research carried out by the Forum of Private Business (FPB) found that some NHS trusts are barely managing to pay one in five invoices within 30 days, more than a year after all public bodies were urged to pay bills within 10 days to help small firms through the recession.

Other NHS trusts, meanwhile, are paying more than 90% of their bills within 10 days. The FPB used Freedom of Information Act requests to reveal the figures.

It found that at least five NHS trusts had paid fewer than 1% of their bills within 10 days over the past year. Additionally, at least 35 trusts processed fewer than 10% within 10 days.

Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Lancashire emerged as the best-performing trust in England for 10-day payment, paying 94% of invoices within 10 days. Three trusts in London and the South-east were joint worst on this count, all reporting 0% figures.

The Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the West Midlands was the best for 30-day payments, processing 99.9% of bills within the month. The Royal Bolton Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was the worst, with a figure of 18.7% for 30-day payment.

FPB spokesman Phil McCabe said: “These figures show an astonishing lack of consistency and uniformity when it comes to prompt payment in the NHS.

“This 'postcode lottery' reflects what we found when we carried out similar research on payment among local authorities. Many public bodies don't appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet and small businesses are suffering as a result.”

McCabe added: “We appreciate that the NHS has a hugely important job to do. The better-performing trusts show that prompt payment is entirely possible and shouldn't cost anything extra to implement.”

When compared with local authorities, NHS trusts perform much more poorly on prompt payment. Recent research found that 44% of invoices to English councils were being paid within 10 days, but only 31% of bills were paid as quickly by NHS organisations.

Similarly, the average NHS bill in England took 26 days to be paid, compared with 18 days for local authority invoices.