Ex-health boss:

THE former leader of a health trust engulfed in a £20m mountain of debt has denied leaving the job to avoid the public outcry in the face of huge cutbacks.

THE former leader of a health trust engulfed in a £20m mountain of debt has denied leaving the job to avoid the public outcry in the face of huge cutbacks.

Two months ago Tony Ranzetta quit his post of as chief executive of the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust to take on a new role with the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Health Authority.

The trust has now announced major cutbacks in health services across west Suffolk in a bid to reduce its debts by 2007.

Mr Ranzetta says his decision to quit his post at the PCT had nothing to do with the proposed cuts and said he was never aware the debts were so high.

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Unison officials, members of the public, civic leaders and hospital staff have reacted furiously to the PCT plans – which include closing Sudbury's 68-bed Walnuttree Hospital and axing 16 beds at Newmarket Hospital.

Out-patient services at Walnuttree and Sudbury's other hospital, St Leonard's, are also facing the axe with plans to centralise them at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, which is also facing major cutbacks.

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The PCT is also planning to withdraw the outline business case for the new 30-bed Sudbury health campus due to open in 2007, which is currently being considered by the Strategic Health Authority.

In light of the proposed cuts furious campaigners have been calling for managers at the PCT to resign and others say Mr Ranzetta took a sideways step to avoid the public outcry over the situation - a claim he vehemently denies.

"I changed positions because the new post within the strategic health authority was an exciting opportunity for me. I didn't take a side step to avoid facing the public anger because at the time nobody was aware of these proposals," he said.

Mr Ranzetta, now a health advisor for the Strategic Health Authority, also claims he was sure the new Sudbury hospital would be built when he left the PCT.

But he does admit he failed to reach targets he was set when he became the PCT's chief executive in 2002: "My job was to help the trust to break even at the end of each year, so I didn't achieve my goal in that aspect, but much of that was for reasons beyond my control.

"The figure of £20m is news to me, when I left I was told we had a deficit of between £7 and £9m, and I was working to reduce that figure. I was also confident the new Sudbury hospital would go ahead because with the information I had we were able to make a cost neutral outline business case.

"I don't know what has changed since I left the PCT so I need to look at all the figures before I make any further comment on the matter, but I would just like to make it clear I didn't jump ship to avoid criticism."

South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo, who is leading the fight to save Walnuttree from closure, said: "I certainly think these ludicrous financial problems have not occurred in the past two months.

"I think all the people who have been on the PCT board for the past couple of years must take their share of the responsibility for allowing the debts to rise to this dreadful level.

"I am now calling for an outside audit to see how the debts were allowed to spiral out of control like this."

Peter Beer, Sudbury town and Suffolk county councillor, said: "I am calling for the entire PCT board to be sacked because I have no confidence in them."

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