Cash-strapped PCT balances its books

AN Essex health trust plagued by multi-million pound debts since its creation announced yesterday that it had not only beaten its tough interim repayment targets but also managed to balance its books completely.

By Roddy Ashworth

AN Essex health trust plagued by multi-million pound debts since its creation announced yesterday that it had not only beaten its tough interim repayment targets but also managed to balance its books completely.

And last night Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, chief executive of the North East Essex Primary Care Trust (PCT), pledged that by December next year all patients would receive clinical treatment within 18 weeks of a GP referral.

In January the PCT put in place an emergency 55-day action plan to clear a £1.8 million portion of its £6.8 million debt by April 1.


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But yesterday Dr Zollinger-Read told the EADT that after the imposition of stringent controls and negotiations with the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) the PCT had managed to clear its entire deficit.

The North East Essex PCT was formed in October from the merger of the former Colchester and Tendring PCTs.

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It inherited a considerable deficit and was ordered by the SHA to return more than £5m of its cash to bail out ailing health trusts in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.

But yesterday Dr Zollinger-Read said that this repayment was waived after the PCT's own difficulties - especially that of the LIFT procurement system, which has encountered serious problems - were recognised.

“We are going to balance at the end of this financial year with no debt. We have reduced it to zero,” he said. “Next year we are also not anticipating any debt.

“Next year is going to be very difficult and challenging, but we have put in a plan to achieve the targets.”

Dr Zollinger-Read added that by next March it was anticipated that 85% of patients would receive treatment within 18 weeks from referral by a GP. He added that this would include diagnostic tests, which can sometimes delay the process.

By December next year, he said, the PCT should be achieving a target of 100% of patients being treated within the 18 week period.

“We will not have any debt,” he said. “I am very thankful and grateful to the staff and the SHA that it's all come together towards the end of the financial year - it puts us psychologically in a very good position.

“For an organisation to get rid of the label of debt hanging round its neck it is very relieving.

“Staff felt they were in a second rate organisation and to get rid of that is a very good move.”

Yesterday Bernard Jenkin, MP for North Essex, said: “I have been campaigning to retrieve money taken from health services in north Essex, and if this has been fully restored I congratulate Dr Zollinger-Read and I shall be asking him for details.”

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