HEALTH bosses have warned that the body running healthcare in Wiltshire is in a "dire" financial state and faces a shortfall of almost £5million this year.

Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) — made up of GPs, nurses and consultants — is responsible for planning and buying health services in the county.

Its leaders wrote to members on Friday to emphasise the "very serious financial position" and ask for help, warning of a potential £23million funding gap for 2016/17.

It described the past year as "one of the most difficult faced by the NHS in recent times", due to a "funding squeeze" and "ever increasing" demand for services.

In Wiltshire, a particular problem has been higher spending on planned and day-to-day healthcare.

The CCG has told NHS England it will miss its financial target by £4.8m this year, and by up to £23million next year.

In response, NHS England has asked it to draw up a financial recovery plan.

The letter said: "The seriousness of this situation cannot be overstated," and failure to balance the books would mean the CCG going into “turnaround”.

This would involve hiring outside experts to come in and sort out the CCG's finances.

The letter said: "Very simply, NHS Wiltshire CCG cannot continue to fund the excess demand that is being experienced. Our system is over trading and it will have to shrink in order to fit within the financial envelope we receive."

The CCG introduced measures last week to try to tackle the shortfall.

These included capping the amount of planned care it buys from hospitals, limiting the number of procedures it can fund, and getting money back from drugs companies.

It is looking at new clinics to work out whether patients really need acute care before they are referred.

The CCG must prove to NHS bosses it is cutting costs, including in day-to-day care from GPs and nurses.

The letter said failing to respond to the financial pressures would result in "difficult and prolonged financial decisions and contractual negotiations for 2016/17 as well as threatening the sustainability of existing services".