Health authority facing £8.6m deficit

A FINANCIAL hole to the tune of £8.6 million has been revealed in a health authority's coffers - almost double the amount originally reported. Last week the West Suffolk Primary Care Trust - which is responsible for funding hospitals, nurses, GPs, dentists and pharmacists in the area - admitted a massive £5.

A FINANCIAL hole to the tune of £8.6 million has been revealed in a health authority's coffers - almost double the amount originally reported.

Last week the West Suffolk Primary Care Trust - which is responsible for funding hospitals, nurses, GPs, dentists and pharmacists in the area - admitted a massive £5.3 million would have to be found to cover a shortfall over the next year.

But it has since been revealed that further savings of £3.3million will be needed in order for the trust to balance its books for 2004/2005.

Last night, the shortfall was labelled “totally unacceptable” by West Suffolk MP Richard Spring.


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“This is really bad news,” he said. “The £5.3 million deficit was bad enough but to learn the budget is short by another £3.3 million is just unbelievable and I just do not understand what is going on.”

Trust officials said they were working with the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) to phase the repayment of the deficit over a two-year period.

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Board members highlighted 10 areas where savings could be made, and said £1 million of the deficit would be covered by a loan from the SHA.

Mr Spring said: “This is complete nonsense. The PCT has been given this loan but they will still have to pay it back and the money will have to come from somewhere.

“No matter what provision has been made for the debt, at the end of the day the total deficit is still £8.6 million which is a staggering amount.”

“People should be very worried about this and I have written to the SHA to find out what this momentous deficit is like compared to other areas of Suffolk.”

Aidan Dunn, director of finance for the West Suffolk PCT, said the trust had never made a secret of the true extent of the deficit.

“The gap between what we would like to spend and what we have available is £8.6 million,” he said.

“We are working with the SHA to arrange a £1 million loan, and then we will pay the £5.3 million difference back over the next two years. That only leaves us with £2.3 million to pay back this year.

Mr Dunn, who admitted the trust has “known for a long time it has been struggling financially”, said that the level of patient care would not be effected by the proposals to make savings in various areas of the PCT's service.

“There are certain ways we can save a considerable amount of money over the next year,” he said.

“For example, there are some drugs that are very expensive, that do exactly the same job as the cheaper ones, so we are trying to encourage GPs to change which drugs they use.

“The NHS is always under financial pressure but I do not think it is anything for people to be worried about, because out of a £222 million budget, £8.6 million is not as bad as it seems.”

And it is not just the West Suffolk PCT being hit by financial difficulties. This week it emerged that bosses at three of the regions other trusts risk losing their jobs as part of a major cost-cutting exercise.

Senior management at the Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Central Suffolk PCTs is set to be merged as health bosses bid to tackle mounting debts.

The move, due to be announced officially today , has been suggested by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority as it tries to cut dramatic overspending.

Finance experts from the health authority were called in to Suffolk's five primary care trusts earlier this year as they were looking at combined debts of £11million.

The county's five primary care trusts - which also includes Waveney and West Suffolk - were created in April 2002, replacing the old Suffolk Health Authority which previously controlled all health services.

Primary care trusts plan and buy health services, such as doctors and dentists, and they are in charge of spending 50% of the NHS budget.

They were brought in by the Government to bring decision-making closer to patients, and give them better access to health care.

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