Councillors refuse to back PCT plea

SUFFOLK councillors have refused to endorse pleas from Waveney health bosses for the primary care trust not to be absorbed into a single county-wide organisation.

By Graham Dines

SUFFOLK councillors have refused to endorse pleas from Waveney health bosses for the primary care trust not to be absorbed into a single county-wide organisation.

After voting down a Labour proposal to support in principle the merger of Waveney and Great Yarmouth PCTs, the county council spent nearly two hours discussing the future of health services in the county before deciding that the views of all members should be forwarded to the Strategic Health Authority (SHA), which wants to merge the five debt-burdened PCTs in Suffolk.

The SHA will make recommendations to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, who will decide how to tackle the combined £40m debt which has been run up by Suffolk's five PCTs.

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The council threw out an amendment by Labour's David Thomas, which would have lent the county council's support to Waveney PCT, which is concerned that a merger with the other four PCTs would damage health care in the district.

Mr Thomas said councillors should be under no illusion at the volume of support within Waveney for it to be allowed to merge with Great Yarmouth.

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The public and health professionals within the district backed the idea, as did the professional bodies representing doctors and pharmacists across the whole of Suffolk.

He added: “Despite being underfunded by £8.5m, Waveney will not be in deficit this time next year. It is a success story and should not be forced to join with Suffolk's four failing PCTs.”

However, his amendment was rejected by 36 votes to 19 with three abstentions. Waveney council leader Conservative Mark Bee, who abstained as Tory councillors voted down Labour's amendment, said Waveney did not deserve to be dragged down by the other PCTs. “There is a rational business case for a merger with Great Yarmouth and the public are on board.”

Suffolk county council leader Jeremy Pembroke said the NHS in Suffolk was “a real mess. There are significant deficits that are not under control.”

He added: “The choice is one PCT for Suffolk or one for most of Suffolk and a Great Yarmouth-Waveney PCT. The key is that whatever is decided by the Secretary of State, PCTs must be sustainable, fit for purpose in Suffolk and fit for a generation.”

He pointed out that each new PCT would have an inbuilt fixed cost of £500,000 to run a separate board, and this was before other management costs.

“Let us be clear - every one pound that is spent on overheads is one pound less for nursing care and medicine.

“The SHA has made it clear that the funding for management costs will be same irrespective of the number of PCTs. The more PCTs we have, the less there is to spend on front line purchasing.

“There are health inequalities in Suffolk that need to be addressed. Will it be more straightforward to address them within a single Suffolk PCT or with an additional which crosses a county border?

“The PCTs should be big enough to have genuine capacity, to take a strategic view about service development, to be able to procure things efficiently, to have flexibility to respond to different and varying needs.”

Jane Leighton, chairman of Waveney Primary Care Trust, said after the meeting: “Until a few weeks ago, the county council was set to vote for an all-Suffolk PCT.

“The fact that it is now neutral and that councillors from all parties expressed support for the Waveney-Great Yarmouth option is a significant advance.”

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