D-day for hospital's foundation bid

D-DAY is looming for a debt-ridden hospital trust's bid for foundation status following a crunch meeting with the decision-making panel.Members of the board of the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust, which is facing a £6.

D-DAY is looming for a debt-ridden hospital trust's bid for foundation status following a crunch meeting with the decision-making panel.

Members of the board of the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust, which is facing a £6.5million deficit, have met the independent board of decision- makers, Monitor, for the last time before a decision is announced.

Trust chief executive Chris Bown said decision was likely to “go down to the wire”, but added he was optimistic about the trust's chances.

A decision was initially due last November, but Monitor decided the application, which was backed by 9,000 members of the public, needed further scrutiny.


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Since then the trust, which governs the West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket Hospital and the Walnuttree Hospital, Sudbury, has been battling to reduce its debts and formulate plan to put its finances back on a firm footing.

Following Thursday's meeting, Mr Bown said: “It was reasonably positive, they gave nothing away, but I think we gave a good account of ourselves.

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“It was a very challenging couple of hours, but I was pleased with our performance. The main focus was about financial recovery and the point of the meeting was to challenge us and ask us about our future plans.”

Mr Bown said the trust had been working hard in the last six months to reduce costs and had been able inform Monitor it hoped to make savings of around £5.5 million by the end of the financial year.

He added: “They said we were making good progress, certainly in the last six months, and without the savings we have made the situation would have been considerably worse.”

In spite of positive signs from Monitor, Mr Bown said he would not like to predict the trust's chances of success.

He said: “I'm always optimistic, it's too early to tell and I don't like to count my chickens. There is still a lot which needs to be done to provide some of the assurances require, but they gave us some very positive signals, and while I was pleased with that, only time will tell.”

A decision is due by April 1, although Mr Bown said it could be forthcoming any time before that.

Should the bid fail Mr Bown has warned the trust's hospitals will face a radical shake-up in services, and would have to balance its books in just 12 months, by which time its debts could rise to £10 million.

If foundation status is granted the trust will be under a different financial regime, which will allow it to recover from its debts over the course of three years.

The bid was launched early in 2004 and received the backing of Health Secretary John Reid after it regained its three-star status in the NHS league tables published last July.

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