Cash cuts may harm health services

A SUFFOLK health trust boss has become the first in the region to admit that measures aimed at alleviating the county's massive health debts could impact on patient care.

A SUFFOLK health trust boss has become the first in the region to admit that measures aimed at alleviating the county's massive health debts could impact on patient care.

Mark Halladay, chief executive of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, said that cost-cutting proposals could "impinge" on care in a letter to his staff.

The news comes as health trusts in Suffolk face up to one of the country's worst cash crises, and battle to reduce a total debt of about £30 million.

The Mental Health Trust, which provides services at St Clement's Hospital in Ipswich, the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and at facilities in Kedington and Lothingland, has been given until March to make a £1 million saving.

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In his letter, Mr Halladay suggests a number of proposals aimed a trimming the trust's expenses, including an end to using agency staff, closing services and units, suspending the use of locum medical staff, cutting long-term sickness rates and speeding up discharges.

Talking about agency staff, Mr Halladay said a ban may lead to the closure of low risk services while staff are temporarily transferred to work in higher risk areas.

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He added: "The consequences may be for instance that we temporarily close some daytime services covering therapy and community services in order to support higher risk inpatient services.

"It may also include the closure of an inpatient unit in order to ensure that a smaller number of wards are staffed well."

And, stressing the need to meet the financial target, Mr Halladay added: "Achieving our financial targets is a very important element of our mission as an organisation.

"I personally regard it as very important that we are able to demonstrate this kind of financial control, even where it starts to impinge on client care.

"The reason I regard it as so important is that we are about to make an investment bid to the Health Authority to support the reprovision and closure of services at St Clement's and elsewhere in the trust.

"If we can demonstrate our financial competence on this occasion, it will serve us extremely well in making our case for the much greater investment we are seeking in services over the next 15 to 18 months."

Martin Royal, director of strategy for the trust, told the EADT last night that the organisation was expected to break even at the end of the year, but was being asked to make savings to contribute to the overall debt problem.

He added: "We are currently consulting on a new model of care and we're going to be focusing on developing community-based services.

"The savings we are trying to make will ultimately be re-invested in community-based services in the future.

"If we can afford closing a service we will do so, because that is not our aim. We are trying to be transparent about what we're doing.

"With any modernisation that we do, the actions that we put in place obviously will impinge on patient services - but what we will not compromise on is the safety of the patients, carers and families."

A spokesman for the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority, which set the cash saving deadlines for the region, said the trust was acting responsibly.

He added: "The trust is being prudent in asking itself long and hard questions about how money is spent and whether it can be spent differently for the same result.

"These are the questions that any good organisation would ask itself to manage its finances.

"At this stage, it would appear the trust are generating proposals and there are no indications as yet to whether patient care will be affected.

"It has to be realised that even if the cuts are achieved, the total amount of money that has gone into mental health this year has increased significantly so, on balance, patient care should have seen improvement regardless of the action the trust has to take."

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