Health summit calls for more time

HEALTH trusts in Suffolk must be given more time to sort out their crisis-hit finances or lives will be put at risk, council bosses told a Government minister last night.

By Jonathan Barnes

HEALTH trusts in Suffolk must be given more time to sort out their crisis-hit finances or lives will be put at risk, council bosses told a Government minister last night.

Senior councillors travelled to London for a summit meeting with health minister Rosie Winterton in a bid to resolve the growing crisis and avert widespread cuts in the county's NHS.

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in Suffolk have combined debts of £40m and an historic deficit of £38.9m, and are required by the Government to break-even within two years.

Their plans to pay back the money include closing community hospitals in Sudbury, Eye and Felixstowe and cutting beds in Aldeburgh and Newmarket - moves which have sparked outrage from local people.

Bed cuts, ward closures and job losses are also proposed for Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, in the county's health crisis.

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Suffolk County Council has expressed its concerns at the cutbacks and initiated last night's meeting for senior local authority figures from across the county to put their views to the minister.

Jeremy Pembroke, county council leader, said: “We highlighted the impossible task facing our PCTs at the moment, but it was made clear to us there is no more money for health services in Suffolk and there was no suggestion they would be given more time.

“Our one ray of hope was that the minister said she understood that if community hospitals were closed down, there had to be another form of intermediary care up and running. If we have achieved anything, it is that recognition and we shall be focussing on that.”

Mr Pembroke said the pace of proposed changes was “too rapid” and their impact could undermine the public's confidence in the NHS.

“PCTs must be given more time to avoid a chaotic situation arising where people's health will be endangered and a further loss of confidence in the NHS within the county occurs,” he said.

Mr Pembroke was joined at the meeting by Julian Swainson, deputy leader of the county council's Labour group, Liz Harsant, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, Nigel Bennett, a Babergh district councillor, and Sherrie Green, a member of Suffolk Coastal District Council's cabinet.

Ipswich's Labour MP Chris Mole and Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP John Gummer also attended the meeting, which lasted for about an hour.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The minister and Suffolk representatives agreed that financial discipline is essential in all public services, and that modernisation and reform of health services in Suffolk and the move towards more community-based care is necessary.

“The Primary Care Trusts have received record increases in funding over the last three years and allocations will go up by a further 20% over the next two years. No additional funds could be made available to PCTs.

“The minister asked the Strategic Health Authority to ensure local NHS organisations liaised with local authorities to provide adequate community-based services to avoid any unacceptable gaps in services for patients.”

jonathan.barnes@eadt.co.uk