Massive debts have been racked up by the bodies responsible for paying for health services in Horsham, Mid Sussex and Crawley.
Clinical Commissioning Groups for the areas are now so far in the red that they are being reported to the Secretary of State for breaching their statutory duty to financially break even.
Discussions are also taking place with NHS England to see how the commissioning groups can claw back some cash.
Figures put before a joint meeting of the Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex Clinical Commissioning Groups - responsible for identifying, monitoring and paying for local health services - will finish the financial year with a deficit of more than £24 million.
The Horsham and Mid Sussex group has a £17.4 million deficit, and the Crawley group has a deficit of £6.8 million.
A financial ‘recovery plan’ is now being drawn up to identify where savings can be made over a five-year period, but no concrete decisions have yet been made. Meanwhile, an external organisation has been called in to look into the groups’ spending.
Geraldine Hoban, accountable officer for the Horsham and Mid Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group, said that making the amount of savings required in one year “is not going to be do-able. We have to look at three-to-five years to recover.”
She said officials would be looking at how they could share services over a wider area, over the whole of Sussex.
Both local commissioning groups are also looking at making cuts, putting a freeze on recruitment and making managerial changes.
They also want to try to cut the number of admissions to A&E units, along with actual admissions to hospital wards.
Over recent months, the number of people going to A&E from Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex has been higher than expected and has led to increased costs. They hope they can reduce A&E sattendance by greater use of Crawley’s Urgent Care Centre and more district care at GP level.
Horsham and Mid Sussex CCG chairman Minesh Patel said: “The NHS nationally is facing a huge challenge - both financially as well as to maintain high quality care for our growing population who are living with increasing complex health needs.”