Hewitt 'insensitive' - Suffolk NHS boss

A SUFFOLK NHS boss last night accused Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt of “insensitivity” over her claims that the service had enjoyed its best ever year.

By Richard Smith

A SUFFOLK NHS boss last night accused Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt of “insensitivity” over her claims that the service had enjoyed its best ever year.

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), said she had been “astounded” at Mrs Hewitt's comments in a BBC interview last month.

Mrs Taylor-Brown was speaking at a meeting to discuss the future of Aldeburgh Community Hospital.

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Commenting on Mrs Hewitt's claim, she said: “That is the most insensitive remark I have heard from a politician.

“I was astounded by that. It has been a very challenging year and unsettling, and difficult decisions have been made. I know that many people have been very distraught about what has gone on and for us in the PCT it has not been comfortable.”

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She said a new management team of the PCTs had been faced with a “horror position” to cut millions of pounds of debt and they thought it was almost impossible.

But they had stopped overspending on their budget and they had achieved targets set by the Department of Health, she added.

And Mrs Taylor-Brown said “demoralised” staff have been told to keep faith in the NHS and they would be rewarded with a vibrant community hospital in Aldeburgh.

The hospital is under pressure while the PCTs cut costs and the hospital's League of Friends was warned that job vacancies were causing operational difficulties at the hospital.

Mrs Taylor-Brown said: “Staff are even more demoralised. Staff vacancies are causing real operational problems here and in Ipswich.

“But our commitment remains, not just to the hospital in Aldeburgh but also to refurbish the Felixstowe General Hospital. I know that is difficult for people to accept. We want to develop local services - and I see a very vibrant future for Aldeburgh hospital.”

At Aldeburgh, the aim is to reduce the number of NHS commissioned beds to about 20 by September and use inpatient beds as step-up beds. These are short-term placements for people too unwell to stay at home but who do not need an acute hospital.

An alternative commissioner for the remaining 12 inpatient beds will be found and there will be development of local community and diagnostic services at the hospital. There could be eight extra jobs.

However, the future of the NHS in east Suffolk remains clouded in uncertainty. The county's health scrutiny committee decided to refer the Suffolk East PCTs' plans - which include closing the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe and Hartismere Hospital in Eye - to Mrs Hewitt and therefore everything is on hold until an announcement is made, possibly at the end of May.

Mrs Taylor-Brown told the meeting at the parish church hall: “We are somewhat frustrated.

“West Suffolk PCT's plans were not referred by the health scrutiny committee. We feel that east Suffolk had made a much stronger case. We can not see any logicality or basis other than the politics of the moment as to why our case was referred, but not west Suffolk's.

“I have put every pressure I can on the Department of Health and Strategic Health Authority for a quick response.

“Clearly, we are caught up in bigger politics at the moment and my concern is that if there is a cabinet reshuffle there will be a delay.”

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