Health trust is losing £50,000 a day

By Benedict O'ConnorWEST Suffolk's ailing health services are haemorrhaging £50,000 a day as efforts continue to rein in millions of pounds of debts.

By Benedict O'Connor

WEST Suffolk's ailing health services are haemorrhaging £50,000 a day as efforts continue to rein in millions of pounds of debts.

On the day the Suffolk West Primary Primary Care Trust earned a one-star health rating due to its crippling debts, its finance director revealed it continued to overspend by £50,000 a day.

At a meeting at the closure-threatened Newmarket Hospital yesterday, Aidan Dunn told members of the trust board that it had already overspent by £4.5million in the first three months of the current financial year.

Reacting to the figure, chief executive Mike Stonard - whose appointment was confirmed yesterday - said moves were in hand to combat the spiralling spending.

He said: “To put this in perspective our GPs currently spend £96,000 per day solely on caring for the region's 240,000 residents. What people don't realise is that there are large chunks of our budget which are spent and we are simply sent the bill.

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“We can influence this spending, but it is not necessarily within our direct control, and that is what we are trying to do.”

Some of the savings that the trust has been forced to consider because of its financial situation were also outlined for the first time at the meeting.

A draft consultation document said the closure of beds at the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury and Newmarket Hospital would save the trust £4.2m, offset against the £1.5m required to provide alternative services, making a net saving of £2.7m.

It added a reduction in GP out-of-hours services would save the trust a further £733,000.

But in spite of the £12.7m total savings from the £22.5m overspend forecast for the end of the financial year, the trust will still be £700,000 short of the figure it needed to achieve in the first of the two years that it has been given to balance the books.

The consultation papers showed that other areas that could be hit by the cuts included the wheelchair service, school nursing, podiatry, speech and language therapy, counselling and reproductive health.

Colin Muge, trust chairman, also revealed he had received direct correspondence from Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt asking for information about the board's “approach to financial management”, but stating there would be no more cash to help the situation.

She told Mr Muge: “I am concerned that organisations like yours now face serious financial challenges. These are not going to be resolved by additional income, but by better management of costs.”

Mr Muge said he had written a “robust” response and added: “I pointed out that the trust had been in financial recovery for the whole three-and-a-half years of its existence and that I think we had been blown off course by various financial circumstances.

“I also said we had now appointed new non-executive directors and a new chief executive with a good previous record of balancing financial books.”

A three-month consultation period on the proposed cuts, which will include comprehensive public involvement, is due to start on Monday.