Health trust's debt grows to £10m

By Liz HearnshawA “TRULY horrified” MP has criticised health bosses who are facing a multi-million-pound overspend, claiming patient care would be affected by a “crisis” situation.

By Liz Hearnshaw

A “TRULY horrified” MP has criticised health bosses who are facing a multi-million-pound overspend, claiming patient care would be affected by a “crisis” situation.

Bosses at the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust revealed yesterday their predicted deficit for the end of the current financial year has risen from £5.2milliom to £9.6m, but insisted front-line services would not suffer as a result.

However, West Suffolk MP Richard Spring fears patients could be affected by an overspend that he described as “absolutely horrific”.

He said: “The total budget of the primary care trust is £220m and to have a deficit of £9.6m shows, frankly, that things are spiralling out of control. It is as simple as that.

“The idea that this cannot affect patient care has gone completely out of the window. There is no point in being in denial about this.

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“We have a crisis as this money has to be paid back. We are at a precipice of patient care and I just do not know how we are going to get through the winter with this financial situation. I dread it.

“We have never had a situation like this in Suffolk before and there is no way I believe they can avoid patient care cuts. I am truly horrified by what has happened. I think it is just absolutely horrific.”

Colin Muge, chairman of the primary care trust, said it was not “the slightest bit complacent” about the deficit.

“We are frankly spending more money on health than we receive and I am afraid we are not allowed to do that. We have got to get within our budget,” he added.

“The thing I would stress is that all the additional expenditure has been on patient care and our management costs are slightly below budget.”

Mr Muge said increases in emergency admissions, prescribing expensive drugs and a rise in elective care had all contributed to the overspend, while the full effects of a recovery plan, designed to save money by making the service more efficient, had not yet shown in the budget.

“The NHS is better funded now than ever before, but the demands are greater,” added Mr Muge, who said patients would not suffer as a result of the deficit. “We are determined there will be no affect on front-line services.

“We are required to be in balance and we have until April 2006 to do that. But this has got to be a joint activity and is not something the primary care trust can do by itself. It is something the whole health system has to work on.”

Mr Muge said balancing the books was the responsibility of the entire

NHS, including hospitals, the ambulance service and mental health trusts.

He added the trust remained confident that new facilities will be in place in Sudbury to replace the town's ageing Walnuttree Hospital by 2007, despite many residents fearing the overspend would prevent the project going ahead.

“I can understand the concerns about it, but nothing has changed. We have exactly the same ambition and are very hopeful of that in 2007,” said Mr Muge.

The predicted deficit will be discussed at a primary care trust meeting in Bury St Edmunds today.

liz.hearnshaw@eadt.co.uk