Health chiefs defend secret decision

FARM-buying health bosses have today defended the secretive way their decision to splash out on parking for staff was taken.

FARM-buying health bosses have today defended the secretive way their decision to splash out on parking for staff was taken.

NHS Suffolk has been heavily criticised for spending �475,000 on farmland opposite its luxurious Bramford headquarters.

Despite being accountable to taxpayers in the county the primary care trust (PCT) - which is responsible for planning healthcare in Suffolk - made the mega-spend in secret.

The lavish purchase was not discussed at a board meeting and was not made public until The Evening Star revealed the news on Monday.

Prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, said the secretive way the decision was taken was outrageous.

“Sadly, I am no longer surprised by the extravagance of the NHS bureaucracy,” he added.

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“Half a million pounds could do so much for Ipswich Hospital, yet the PCT is content to splash out on an executive car park.

“What is worse, the spending was authorised without the full scrutiny of the board, who are supposed to be there to protect the interests of Suffolk's taxpayers and patients.”

NHS Suffolk said it had stuck to the rules over transparency and accountability when the decision to buy the farm was taken on March 19.

Since then there have been three public board meetings where the move could have been discussed, but has not been.

Martin Royal, director of external communications and business development at NHS Suffolk, said: “This was a decision taken in accordance with the approved standing financial instructions of NHS Suffolk.

“These provide delegated powers for the chairman and, in this case the acting chief executive, to take limited decisions, which are then referred to the board at its meeting in public.

“It was decided to defer reporting this matter until the planning details were finalised, however it is important to note that the chairman always consults his fellow non-executive directors before signing-off any such action.

“The matter will therefore be reported at the board meeting in public in September.”

The farmland controversy:-

- NHS Suffolk has sparked outrage by splashing out �475,000 on farmland opposite its Bramford headquarters.

- The decision was taken in secret by the chairman and finance director and did not go to a public board meeting.

- The trust, which buys and plans healthcare in the county, wants to convert the 2.5 hectare space into car parking, and possibly transform a dilapidated farmhouse into staff facilities.

- The extra parking spaces are needed partly because NHS Suffolk's staffing numbers have more than doubled from 80 employees in 2006 to 190 today.

- The trust was warned in 2006 not to buy an out-of-town site with no access to public transport and little parking - but it pushed ahead regardless.