D-Day for health service cuts

By Benedict O'ConnorA FURTHER 229 health workers will learn whether the axe is due to fall on their jobs today, in addition to the 220 already bracing themselves for redundancy.

By Benedict O'Connor

A FURTHER 229 health workers will learn whether the axe is due to fall on their jobs today, in addition to the 220 already bracing themselves for redundancy.

The spiralling £42.5million debt crisis facing health services in west Suffolk is top of the agenda at two crunch meetings today, where the loss of up to 449 jobs, 103 hospital beds and two surgical theatres will be discussed.

The East Anglian Daily Times has already revealed the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust's plans to shut the Walnuttree Hospital, Sudbury, and close beds at Newmarket Hospital.

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But agenda papers for today's trust board meeting in Bury St Edmunds revealed the extent of the toll on employment caused by the crisis.

According to the trust papers, the loss of all 32 hospital beds in Sudbury and 16 hospital beds in Newmarket will mean a potential 229 job losses in both towns.

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A trust spokeswoman said these were intended to be split among full and part-time positions and it hoped to redeploy as many staff as possible, while some job losses would be down to “natural wastage.”

She added: “These are very difficult times for our staff and our patients and the board will carefully consider them. These are only recommendations and the board has the final decision.”

The majority of the £42.5m debt - which accounts for last year's overspend and this year's forecast overspend - is split almost equally between the West Suffolk Hospitals Trust and the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust, with an estimated £1.4m of savings to be made from the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust.

At the West Suffolk Hospitals Trust board meeting, also held in Bury St Edmunds today, members are due to debate the proposed axe of 220 jobs, 55 hospital beds and two surgical theatres at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds.

But agenda papers showed that the overnight accident and emergency services at West Suffolk Hospital, which had been cited by chief executive Chris Bown as a likely victim of the cuts, look to have won a reprieve as removing them was judged unlikely to save money.

All three west Suffolk MPs - Tim Yeo, David Ruffley and Richard Spring - have expressed their disgust at the situation and Mr Yeo called for the resignation of Mr Bown, who told the EADT he had no intention of standing down.

On the eve of the crisis meetings, a consultant has come forward in Mr Bown's defence, claiming to represent the views of other senior medical staff.

Dr John Urquhart, consultant anaesthetist and chairman of West Suffolk Hospital's medical staff committee, said: “We feel that when Chris Bown took over the post of chief executive just 10 months ago, these financial problems already existed and that he should be given a fair chance to sort them out.

“In common with all other groups in the trust, senior medical staff at the West Suffolk Hospital are already involved in changing our working patterns to support the trust's plans.

“However we would not support any measure that would cause irreversible damage to the trust or an irretrievable diminution of service to the community.

“Our support would have been withdrawn immediately if closure of accident and emergency at night, for example, had remained in the financial recovery plan.”


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