Cash-strapped NHS 'faces winter crisis'

DOCTORS in Suffolk have warned swingeing cuts planned at the county's hospitals could plunge the NHS into a major winter crisis.With bed cuts on the agenda at Ipswich Hospital and the axe hanging over community hospitals, the GPs have spoken of their “serious concerns” about the state of the NHS and the affect it will have on their patients.

DOCTORS in Suffolk have warned swingeing cuts planned at the county's hospitals could plunge the NHS into a major winter crisis.

With bed cuts on the agenda at Ipswich Hospital and the axe hanging over community hospitals, the GPs have spoken of their “serious concerns” about the state of the NHS and the affect it will have on their patients.

Dr Adrian Kemp has issued a warning on behalf of all the five doctors at the Siam Surgery, in Sudbury.

He said: “I think there will certainly be a problem during the winter, particularly if the Walnuttree Hospital shuts down.


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“It will mean extra travelling for patients and, with the reduction of beds because of it, I strongly suspect if there is a flu problem or an external event it will cause a significant problem.”

Dr John Havard , from the Saxmundham Health Group, said last night : “All around community hospitals are being cut and they are also cutting beds at the main provider. Unless we can stop people becoming ill, we have got a crisis.”

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The six GPs at the Saxmundham surgery have warned there could be no turning back once hospitals have closed, likening it to “selling off the family silver”.

And they have predicted the reductions in health services currently being planned could be the tip of the iceberg.

They said: “Our considered view is that if these drastic cuts go ahead then further and more draconian cuts will be required next financial year when the payback of the capital debt starts.

“The people of Suffolk will have to endure savage service reductions because of the financial mismanagement over many years.”

The GPs said there was an appropriate parallel between the Suffolk financial crisis and Third World debt in that “if an economy is on its knees you cannot bleed it dry without immense suffering of the people served by that economy”.

“It is a sobering thought that we feel comparisons of our local NHS with the Third World are now relevant,” they said.

They were responding to the Changing for the Better document which spells out controversial plans by cash-strapped Ipswich Hospital, Suffolk Mental Health Partnership and Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to cut beds and deliver more care at home, as they strive to balance the books.

Measures include cutting beds at Aldeburgh Hospital, reducing the four NHS sites at Felixstowe to one, and axing all hospital beds at Hartismere Hospital, in Eye.

Meanwhile, Walnuttree Hospital and St Leonard's Hospital, both in Sudbury, are expected to be shut, jobs, beds and two surgical theatres could be cut at West Suffolk Hospital and all beds could be axed at Newmarket Hospital.

But the Saxmundham doctors also have anxieties over the move to care in the community and questioned whether it would work.

They said: “At present we have care packages approved by Social Care, but no carers are available to provide this much-needed care.

“If relatives or friends cannot be persuaded to fill the gaps then the system falls apart and a hospital admission may even result.

“If acute and community beds are drastically cut then the need for carers will incur exponential growth and yet we already have a dire need before the start.”

Dr Kemp added: “I do not think it is to give people better care. It's motivated by it being easier to cut costs.”

The public consultation on the service changes has been extended until the end of November.

A spokesman for Suffolk East PCTs said last night: “The board will take into consideration all of the feedback and viewpoints after the consultation period is over and any decisions would not be taken until late January 2006.”

Suffolk West PCT declined to comment further.

n Another leading Suffolk GP has expressed fears that Government reforms could make finding an NHS doctor as hard as finding an NHS dentist.

Dr Don McElhinney, of the Burlington Road surgery in Ipswich, said: “My main concern is that what's happening with dentists will happen with primary care. It's a possibility and it's what people are beginning to talk about.”

By 2008, the NHS aims to be providing patients with more choice over where they receive their treatment and in order to do this will bring in more private sector companies and voluntary organisations.

Dr McElhinney said many of his concerns stem from the lack of information being given to frontline staff on how the reforms will work.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Changes in PCT boundaries and in commissioning have been widely anticipated and discussed over the last few months.”

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