Anger over minister's hospital visit

HEALTH Secretary Patricia Hewitt paid a late night visit to Ipswich Hospital, just weeks before she refused to intervene in the cash crisis that has engulfed the health service in Suffolk, it has emerged.

By Graham Dines

HEALTH Secretary Patricia Hewitt paid a late night visit to Ipswich Hospital, just weeks before she refused to intervene in the cash crisis that has engulfed the health service in Suffolk, it has emerged.

Her visit was so discreet that not even the town's Labour MP Chris Mole was invited to meet her as she discussed problems with clinicians and NHS Trust officials.

Ms Hewitt is under mounting criticism from MPs, councillors and health professionals in the county as Suffolk's NHS and Primary Care Trusts struggle to come to terms with debts of £74.3m.


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A few days after her visit on a Sunday in May, the scale of the financial problems in Suffolk were revealed.

Ipswich Hospital itself is battling to save up to £18.6m in the current financial year as it attempts to meet Ms Hewitt's demands that trusts should pay off their debts by March.

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In order to try and do this it has been proposed to close 52 medical and 28 surgical beds, four wards and the Hayward Day Hospital.

Ipswich was one of four hospitals on an East Anglian itinerary as part of her "listen and learn" exercise shortly taking over the post from Dr John Reid in the post General Election reshuffle.

Mr Mole said: "The Secretary of State wanted to visit Ipswich Hospital without fuss or publicity so she could meet staff privately.

"She is well aware of the difficulties facing trusts in Suffolk but given the Government's policy that they have to balance their books, she would not be making an exception of Ipswich Hospital just because she has visited it."

Jan Rowsell, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said: "Patricia Hewitt arrived late at night and was able to see how the accident and emergency department copes. She spoke to doctors and consultants about the demands on A&E."

However, news of her visit has met with a mixed reception from MPs and members of the public alike.

John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: "I'm pleased that she went to Ipswich because she might now realise a little bit of the problems that we face.

"However it's disappointing that so far she has not listened to any of the concerns that we have.

"I hope that she's learnt a bit but she should also visit other doctors and clinicians throughout Suffolk who find it impossible to provide a decent health service.

"The issue is that we need more time to repay the debts because no individual or organisation could come up with that sort of money within that time frame.

"If things carry on the way they are going the health service will be worse that it was 30 years ago as further cuts will put added pressure on existing hospitals and services.

"I now have an appointment to see her myself and will ask her to explain why Suffolk is at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to funding while at the same time having a large elderly and frail population who are dependent of receiving care."

Lorene Baker, a member of the Ipswich Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) acute forum, said: "Unfortunately I have to say that I'm not at all surprised by Ms Hewitt's reaction.

"The public concerns about the situation are great but she does not seem to be listening. The health system in Suffolk is terrifically in the red and when is it all going to be paid back?

"We have now decided to join together with other forums across the country so that we can address the situation because it seems as if this is the only way forward."

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