County's health debts topping £30m

HEALTH trusts across Suffolk will enter the next financial year still grappling with debts totalling more than £30 million – despite making huge savings.

HEALTH trusts across Suffolk will enter the next financial year still grappling with debts totalling more than £30 million – despite making huge savings.

Suffolk's hospitals and health providers have all been forced to save money to alleviate one of the country's worst health cash crises.

While end of financial year forecasts show that the county's debt will total more than £30 million, the organisations insist progress has been made.

Jan Rowsell, a spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, the three east Suffolk primary care trust's (Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Suffolk Central) and the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership, said after an initial combined overspend forecast of more than £30 million, the actual figure was now predicted to be £19.4 million. That compares to a deficit of £12.9 million at the end of the last financial year.

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But she stressed: "We've put together a very clear recovery strategy plan which goes to the trust boards this month and says what we need to do so that by April 2007 we will have achieved financial balance.

"A lot of care and effort has gone into how we're going to do this so we know it's achievable - but it's a huge challenge."

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Mrs Rowsell claimed patient services have not, or will not suffer in the savings exercise.

She explained that, among other things, long hospital stays were being replaced with treatments either in the home or at local community clinics.

She added: "Patient care is a priority and that's the touchstone for us here in Suffolk East. It will mean that services will change but it's a very different thing to cutting services.

"There have been beds which have been closed in the system but the reasons for that are staff shortages through illness and the fact that we have been changing the way we care. Beds have not been closed to save money. They have been closed to change care."

A spokesman for West Suffolk PCT said, after starting the year with a deficit of £4.4 million, it is predicting a year-end overspend of £7.1 million - but has made savings of £7.4 million.

Chief Executive Tony Ranzetta said: "Since the PCT came into being three years ago we have invested more than £600m in patient care and in that time we will have overspent by 1% of our allocation.

"The £7.1m is an accumulated deficit over a period of three years. When the PCT came into existence it inherited an underlying deficit of £10.8million.

"We have made some progress in savings and in the last three months we have seen considerable improvement in our financial position.

"However, it is still not where the Board and the organisation want to be and we are still looking to make savings."

A spokeswoman for the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust said the forecast for the end of the year was a £6.8 million overspend, compared to a £2.5 million overspend last year.

However, she stressed that the trust had made savings of £5.5 million to date this year, through a variety of initiatives.

Linda Potter, director of finance, said: "The trust has a statutory duty to be in financial balance but the trust, with the help of staff, have done well in achieving £5.5 million in cost improvements this year."

Finally, a spokesman for Waveney PCT said the organisation is currently £4,000 underspent, and is predicting it will break even by the end of the financial year.

That compares favourably to last year, which saw the PCT overspend by £470,000.

He added: "A lot of it is down to our primary care prescribing, which we've seen less of this year. "We've also seen modernisation in the way that we work.

"For example, with cataracts patients used to go to the James Paget Hospital for pre-operative assessments, and then they went back for the operation and follow ups.

"What's happened now is that we're using opticians in the community to do the pre-ops and the follow-ups, which is better for patients and for the PCT.

"The trust has worked hard at reducing the deficit from last year and looks forward to the predicted break-even position."

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