Biscuits ban as cash crisis bites

HEALTH chiefs are cutting out little luxuries in a bid to streamline the £28million deficit facing three primary care trusts in Suffolk.Biscuits and sandwiches have been axed from board meetings in a ''symbolic gesture'' to overworked staff that the financial crisis for Central Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal and Ipswich primary care trusts (PCTs) is being taken seriously.

By Richard Smith

HEALTH chiefs are cutting out little luxuries in a bid to streamline the £28million deficit facing three primary care trusts in Suffolk.

Biscuits and sandwiches have been axed from board meetings in a ''symbolic gesture'' to overworked staff that the financial crisis for Central Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal and Ipswich primary care trusts (PCTs) is being taken seriously.

Other cost-cutting measures include using Endeavour House, Ipswich, for some meetings instead of paying for private facilities, a reduction in the amount of colour used in photocopying and reviewing the use of stationery.


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Buying external publications and taking out subscriptions will be kept to a ''bare minimum'', contracts for mobile phones will be reviewed and health officers will assess the current provision of land-line telephones.

These measures are part of a ''back to basics'' approach being delivered by the three PCTS – but a far-ranging review is also being undertaken of all expenditure.

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The three PCTs ended the last financial year with a combined overspend of £12.5m, along with an underlying deficit of £15.6million.

Alison Taylor, finance director, said: ''We are doing little things but they count. Stopping sandwiches at meetings, changing the culture so that people think before they spend. A lot of this is about getting the basics right.''

Larger cost-cutting projects include reviewing patient placements made out of Suffolk and third party contracts for providing care for mental health problems and physical disabilities. The use of acute hospital services will be managed more tightly and community hospital costs will be reduced.

The joint board of the three PCTs heard yesterday at a meeting at Suffolk Showground that the east Suffolk health system has been told to make a £9million saving in revenue expenditure and find £5million in other savings in this financial year.

The drive to cut costs is taking longer than the board hoped and officers still need to identify another £4million in savings. The Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority is being asked to extend a one-year deadline to three years.

The health budget is capped at a level nationally calculated on the perceived health needs of the population. The only way the trusts can raise further funds is to create efficiencies and they do not have the ability, for example, to raise local taxes to increase income.

Martin Smith, board member, said: ''The existing levels of service provision for many years, long before the PCTs were set up, always exceeded the funding that was available. It has always been like that in Suffolk and then we came along and we have to manage it. We inherited and maintained a level of service that was not adequately funded.''

But the current financial drive was in danger of taking its toll on stressed staff and fears were raised that key staff could leave, the board was told.

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive, admitted: ''A lot of staff are feeling under pressure and some of the short term measures we are taking are not as they would like them to be. However, they are short-term.''

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