Major shake-up of county's NHS system

EXCLUSIVEBy Jonathan BarnesSENIOR management at three of the region's primary care trusts is set to be merged as health bosses bid to tackle mounting debts.


By Jonathan Barnes

SENIOR management at three of the region's primary care trusts is set to be merged as health bosses bid to tackle mounting debts.

Top jobs at the Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Central Suffolk Primary Care Trusts - which are responsible for the likes of GPs, dentists and pharmacists - will be axed in the shake-up and a single management team created.

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The move, due to be announced officially tomorrow, has been suggested by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority as it tries to cut dramatic overspending.

Finance experts from the health authority were called in to Suffolk's five primary care trusts earlier this year as they were looking at combined debts of £11million.

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They have drawn up a recovery plan for the entire health and social care system in east Suffolk, but it is not thought any jobs below senior management level will go.

However, it will see a major shake-up of the health bodies, which were only set up two years ago.

Boards of the three primary care trusts will have to agree the changes and they will be subject to widespread consultation before being implemented.

Dr Gareth Richards, chairman of the professional executive committee at Central Suffolk Primary Care Trust, said: “There are reasonable ideas about merging at management level to achieve economies of scale and unity of purpose.

“It is about achieving a certain amount of economy at top level, in areas such as decision making and where there would be advantages working together.

“The strategic health authority has come forward with a plan and the three boards have to agree. This is something that has been happening across the country, it is not unique to Suffolk.

“But I am reasonably certain the three primary care trusts will remain as individual entities, until at least the next General Election. They were set up to serve the needs of the local community and that would have to be preserved.”

Dr Richards said he did not believe the changes would bring job cuts because the system was already low on staff numbers and it would not be possible to cut “essential” services.

He added: “I'm sure if the primary care trusts had turned in a profit, nobody would have looked at doing this, but the strategic health authority has focussed its attention on areas and is trying to make economies of scale.”

The county's five primary care trusts - there are also trusts for Waveney and West Suffolk - were created in April 2002, replacing the old Suffolk Health Authority, which previously controlled all health services.

Primary care trusts plan and buy health services, such as doctors and dentists, and they are in charge of spending 50% of the NHS budget.

They were brought in by the Government to bring decision-making closer to patients, and giving them better access to health care.

But the county's primary care trusts inherited debts from Suffolk Health Authority and have struggled to balance the books, with a number of factors causing big overspends.

They have included a huge surge in admissions to accident and emergency departments throughout the winter months and the rising costs of funding expensive out-of-county mental health care placements.

A spokesperson for the NHS in east Suffolk said: “A new way of working across the whole of east Suffolk health and social care system is being proposed and is going to be discussed and consulted upon with each of the three primary care trust boards. There will be a formal consultation with everyone involved.”

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