Anger over health consultants cost

A BELEAGURED health authority is believed to have spent thousands on “external support” from the private sector to help tackle multi million pound debts.

A BELEAGURED health authority is believed to have spent thousands on “external support” from the private sector to help tackle multi million pound debts.

Bosses at the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) have refused to confirm how much they are paying private consultant United Health for its services.

But they said: “As part of our financial recovery programme and the development of our community and intermediate services, the NHS turnaround advisers for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority recommended that we sought external support.

“The idea behind this is to bring in partners with a high level of expertise to complement the skills that already exist within the PCT.

“Following a tendering process we appointed United Health, a highly respected and experienced service provider, for eight weeks and we are confident that they will make a positive contribution towards making the PCT more financially robust.”

But Mike Mandelstrum of the action group fighting to save threatened beds at Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital, said it was unacceptable for the PCT to be spending such sums on consultants while planning to close beds at the ageing Sudbury unit and at Newmarket Hospital.

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The news comes just days after it was revealed West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust, which is also battling a multi-million pound debt problem, had shelled out £100,000 on financial planning advice.

The PCT announced on Wednesday that a legal challenge being made against a decision to close inpatient beds at Walnuttree Hospital could permanently scupper plans for future health services.

The PCT has also labelled claims by campaigners that a new health village for Sudbury was not going to be built by 2007 as “absolute nonsense”, and insisted a judicial review costs estimate of £500,000 was a worst-case scenario figure.

However, during a board meeting held at Newmarket Hospital, the PCT said it had no choice but to suspend plans for the new Sudbury Health and Social Care Centre, which will provide alternative health care when Walnuttree Hospital closes in 2007.

Bosses also said there would be a delay in the development of a clinic at Newmarket, a suspension of plans for a new x-ray machine at Walnuttree Hospital, and a postponement on plans to transfer the ownership of the town's Churchfield Road site, where the new health centre was due to be built.

But Mr Mandelstrum claimed delays to the new health centre were already on the cards: “It is as though the PCT felt it could ride rough-shod over local opinion, and it is sad that some patients are so desperate they feel they have no choice but to go for a judicial review.

“But the PCT's reaction to this is inappropriate, and not the way for it to build up trust within the community.

“What the PCT should be doing is sitting down and talking to the people who disagree with the proposals in order to work out a compromise, instead of blaming its problems on members of the public. “The (costs) figure of £500,000 is a complete exaggeration.”

Solicitors have been instructed to begin judicial review proceedings in a bid to bring the matter before the High Court to get the PCT's decision to axe all 32 beds at Walnuttree Hospital overturned.

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