Hospital axes 200 staff amid cash crisis

AROUND 220 hospital staff are due to lose their jobs, 10% of beds cut and two surgical theatres will close as health bosses try and reduce a Suffolk hospital's spiralling £7.

AROUND 220 hospital staff are due to lose their jobs, 10% of beds cut and two surgical theatres will close as health bosses try and reduce a Suffolk hospital's spiralling £7.4 million debts.

South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo yesterday called for the resignation of West Suffolk Hospital chief executive Chris Bown and Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said the hospital and primary care trust boards "could not run a whelk stand".

And West Suffolk MP Richard Spring has called for an urgent meeting with health minister Patricia Hewitt to demand a solution to the mounting crisis.

As the extent of the financial emergency facing West Suffolk health services unfolds, the West Suffolk Hospital has announced cuts to rein in its finances. The Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) has also confirmed its plans to close the Walnuttree Hospital and shut all beds at Newmarket Hospital.

At the West Suffolk yesterday, Mr Bown confirmed the proposals include the closure of two of the hospital's nine operating theatres and the loss of 55 of the 550 beds, while 220 of the estimated 1,100 hospital employees will lose their jobs.

Announcing the proposed cuts, he said: "This is going to be a very difficult year for staff but it is important that we meet the challenges head on.

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"We are facing a period of significant transformation for the West Suffolk Hospital, which we will have to go through to achieve financial stability.

"Only then will we be able to plan and develop with certainty, quality health care for the people of west Suffolk."

As he did so, Mr Yeo led the calls for his resignation and the accountability of other board members and said: "I think Chris Bown should certainly resign as he is the one who gave all the assurances about Walnuttree and the new Sudbury hospital and he was in charge of the organisation that pursued the aim of foundation status.

"The higher managers at the PCT must surely now resign for allowing the debts to spiral out-of-control like this. It is just totally unacceptable."

However Mr Bown categorically denied he would resign, and said: "I think Tim Yeo is a little bit confused about which organisation is responsible for managing Sudbury Hospital. It's not clear why he's calling for my resignation."

He also denied allegations from Mr Yeo, Mr Spring and Mr Ruffley that the hospital's failed bid for foundation status contributed towards its financial downfall.

Mr Ruffley claimed: "They have been off on this wild goose chase for foundation status, instead of concentrating on the real issue of managing their finances and improving patient care.

"This has been coming for three years, and for three years, I and the other MPs have held as many meetings as possible to try and resolve the matter, and each time we have been told it will be alright and each time it hasn't been. The boards have fallen asleep at the wheel, they couldn't run a whelk stall."

Mr Bown said: "First of all, any costs associated with the foundation status application are funded centrally by the Department of Health, no patient funding is used for the bid.

"Secondly the application process started a year before I arrived and it was certainly seen as something that would improve local health services. If we had achieved foundation status, the financial deficit we are now facing, although disappointing, would have been far less."

Mr Bown said the bid process had actually galvanised the hospital management into working more efficiently and said £4.5 million worth of savings were made during the process, although he conceded the debts in the forthcoming year could rise to £10 million.

Mr Spring was informed of the proposed cuts yesterday morning at a meeting with Mr Bown, shortly before hospital staff were informed.

Speaking immediately after the meeting he warned the situation may get worse and said: "We are in for a terrible, terrible time, for the health workers and the people of Suffolk, and I am requesting an urgent meeting with Patricia Hewitt where I will be demanding action."

The full detail of the proposed cuts is due to be discussed at a meeting of the West Suffolk Hospital board on Wednesday.

No one from Unison was available for comment yesterday.

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