Health services debt deepens

HEALTH services in Suffolk are "living beyond their means" and facing a combined deficit of £23million by the end of March, it has emerged.New figures show the financial crisis facing the county's health trusts is deepening with nearly all forecasting shortfalls in their budgets.

HEALTH services in Suffolk are "living beyond their means" and facing a combined deficit of £23million by the end of March, it has emerged.

New figures show the financial crisis facing the county's health trusts is deepening with nearly all forecasting shortfalls in their budgets.

Last night, one of the county's MPs spoke of his grave concerns about the situation and said he feared it could impact upon patient care.

The financial state of health providers in the county has "worsened sharply" over recent months, according to a report going before county councillors next week.


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Ipswich Hospital is forecasting a budget deficit of £1.4m by the end of the 2004/05 financial year, while West Suffolk Hospital is facing a shortfall of £4.5m.

Ipswich Primary Care Trust (£6.1m), Central Suffolk PCT (£3m), Suffolk Coastal PCT (£3m) and Suffolk West PCT (£5.1m) also forecast big deficits. Only Waveney PCT and the Local Health Partnership are expected to balance their books.

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The overspending is blamed on a big rise in emergency admissions to hospitals, high numbers of delayed transfers of care, or bed-blockers, rising costs of mental health placements outside the county and the "inability" of PCTs and hospital trusts to make planned efficiency savings.

"The current financial difficulties imply that the NHS in Suffolk is living beyond its means," says the report, by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA).

The SHA has demanded financial recovery plans from each trust and health chiefs have insisted the service patients will not be affected.

But Richard Spring, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk, said: "There comes a point where you can't not cut services. You do reach a point where the Government demands that money is paid back and it starts to impact on clinical care.

"I have been given assurances that is not the case but I am very sceptical and concerned about this. I believe there is a real problem looming on the horizon."

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital and Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Central Suffolk PCTs, said: "It's very challenging but we are determined to achieve financial recovery.

"We are changing the way we deliver our care so services are in the right place at the right time for our patients and we get the best value for every penny we have got."

Aidan Dunn, the Suffolk West PCT's director of finance, said: "The PCT is implementing a financial recovery plan, aiming to bring the trust back into financial balance by the end of 2005-6

"Although challenging, the plan is based on efficiency savings and not cuts. Therefore patient services are protected."

A spokeswoman for West Suffolk Hospital said: "The trust has an underlying deficit and is taking action to address this position over the coming months."

The report is going to Suffolk County Council's health overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday.

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