THE £60 million deficit facing a Shropshire health group could take more than 15 years to repay.

Claire Skidmore, chief finance officer for Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), revealed the news on Wednesday as the governing board looked at its financial recovery plan for the next five years.

She said the plan was only aiming to bring the group’s finances back to balance.

Ms Skidmore said: “Once we are there then we will start to pay the deficit back. The more we can stop the accumulation growing, the better.

“At the moment, based on the current position, it is probably going to take around 15 to 18 years to fully repay that deficit. That is why we don’t focus that hard on it because I’m pretty sure we won’t be sat here in the same way then, patting ourselves on the back for repaying it.

“It is not a target for us to aim for in that respect, but that is the severity of the position.”

The CCG has to deliver savings of £99 million over the next five years – equating to four per cent of its annual allocation.

If successful, it will mean that repayment can begin from 2022/23.

Ms Skidmore said achieving such savings would be “a challenge”.

But she added most of the schemes where savings could be made had been identified and the plan for the next two years was in place and ready to go to NHS England to ratified next week.

The forecast deficit for 2018/19 is £13.3 million, which would be written off under the new Commissioner Sustainability Fund, leaving the total deficit at £59.7 million.

However, the meeting was told early over-performance was leaving potential for the CCG to fall £2.8 million short. Ms Skidmore said it was being investigated.

Dr Julian Povey, chairman of the CCG, said the five-year outlook was “a good plan”.

He added: “We can reassure people that, as a board, we will be led by patient safety, quality and doing our best for Shropshire patients from what funding we have.”

Accountable officer for the CCG, Dr Simon Freeman, added: “It is important to understand we are not planning to cut services, because we can’t cut them. We have to find ways of making them more cost effective.”