Revealed: The true extent of cuts to NHS services in Suffolk and north-east Essex
PUBLISHED: 17:49 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:49 21 May 2018
Dramatic cuts have enabled health services in Suffolk and north-east Essex to slice their deficit by even more than planned - but there's still a long way to go to break even.
Figures show in month 11 of 2017/18 care organisations in those areas were set to end the year with a joint £43.8 million shortfall, which is £2.5m less than what they were aiming for.
This newspaper reported last week that in order to reach this position services had to find savings of more than £100m throughout the financial year.
A document seen by this title has now revealed where these cuts were made.
Colchester Hospital achieved the most savings of £16.4m, while Ipswich Hospital cut spending by £15.7m.
Cuts of £13.8m were made at West Suffolk Hospital. As a reward for meeting its budget, the trust received a boost from a national pot of funding, reducing its deficit for the year to £300,000 – £5.6m less than planned.
Bosses at all three hospitals said savings were made without compromising patient care or quality of services.
Dr Steve Dunn, chief executive of West Suffolk Hospital, said the trust had saved money by sourcing cheaper alternatives to regularly used products; changing ways of working to reduce patients’ length of stay; and streamlining processes in theatres so more people could be operated on per day.
He added: “We know we will continue to be asked to do more with less across the coming years, and this will remain one our biggest challenges moving forward.
“However, looking at how we can become more efficient, by utilising technology better to save our staff time for example, and working together with others across the healthcare system, can actually be a real opportunity to better both what we do and the experience patients have of the NHS.”
West Suffolk Hospital was rated ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission in the same year these cuts were made.
A spokesman for Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, which will merge in July, said their savings were largely down to more efficient working across all areas of the trusts.
He added: “Merging our two trusts will mean more money for our services to improve care for patients, and less money will be spent on overheads and duplication.”
Efforts to balance the books are being led by the Suffolk and North East Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP).
Anthony Dooley is a member of Suffolk Unite Community, a trade union which is opposed to the STP.
He said: “I think the so-called savings have been at the expense of people’s health and welfare.
“I think if £100m less is being spent that is going to have a negative impact on the population’s health, it has to.”
Speaking on behalf of the STP, Dr Ed Garratt, chief officer of Suffolk’s clinical commissioning groups, said the partnership aimed to deliver “overall financial balance” by 2021.
Cost-cutting measures highlighted by Dr Garratt include reducing unnecessary appointments and tests, scaling back the use of expensive branded medicines, better procurement and encouraging patients to return unwanted NHS equipment.
“If NHS organisations were to spend more than their allocated budget this could lead to a reduction in services,” Dr Garratt added. “That is why prudent financial management and these savings of £100 million are to be welcomed, offering reassurance to patients that the challenges facing the NHS are being addressed.”