Massive health shake-up endorsed

PLANS for the most radical shake-up yet of the region's failing health system have been endorsed as part of a scheme of £250 million Government cuts.Under plans put forward by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) yesterday, all of Suffolk's primary care trusts will be merged into a single organisation.

PLANS for the most radical shake-up yet of the region's failing health system have been endorsed as part of a scheme of £250 million Government cuts.

Under plans put forward by the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) yesterday, all of Suffolk's primary care trusts will be merged into a single organisation.

Furthermore, the East Anglian Ambulance Trust will merge with those of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex, and the Strategic Health Authority itself will merge with its equivalent body for those counties, forming one authority for the whole eastern region.

Clarification has yet to be received from the Department of Health about the precise roles of the new authorities, and a spokesman for the SHA said the number of redundancies caused by the mergers was not yet quantifiable.


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However, she said indications were they would be largely management roles, and as there would be fewer trusts and boards it was likely the cuts would be in those areas.

No indication has yet been given of where any of the new authorities would be based.

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The plans were approved by the SHA board in Cambridge, following submissions requested from the region's health trusts on potential NHS reorganisation and will now form the basis of a submission to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

Mrs Hewitt will have the final say after an internal NHS consultation period, with an announcement from her office, thought likely to approve the plans, due in late November.

The radical overhaul of health administration is part of the Government's drive to save £250 million in NHS administration costs, which will be ploughed back into cancer and palliative care.

A spokesman for the SHA said at least £11 million will be saved by the plans put forward for the eastern region, all of which will be retained for cancer and palliative care within the region.

Speaking after the meeting, SHA chief executive Alan Burns, said: “These proposals will see the biggest change in the NHS since its formation and form part of the longer term strategy to improve health care, moving closer to a patient-led NHS.”

Suffolk's PCTs had been required to put forward proposals on their future constitutions under the Department of Health paper Commissioning a Patient Led NHS and while Suffolk West PCT and East Suffolk PCTs had preferred the one county option, Waveney and Great Yarmouth had preferred to stay independent.

The SHA board has agreed to include in its submission the strength of feeling from Waveney and Great Yarmouth, while acknowledging the inherent difficulties of this authority crossing county boundaries.

Mike Stonard, chief executive of West Suffolk PCT cautiously welcomed the news, but said localised expertise must not be lost in the new organisation.

He said: “There are clear advantages to having a single countywide trust in terms of economy of scale and cost effectiveness, not duplicating practices throughout the county.

“Inevitably there will be job losses, but we have to make sure we can attract the best people to do the job and retain the best of what the county's PCTs are already achieving and the strong relationships built up with GPs and nurses.”

However, Dr Andrew Hassan, a practising GP and chairman of West Suffolk PCT 's professional executive committee, warned fellow board members at a meeting in Haverhill yesterday the new regime could be a “vast mistake” and herald another chapter of instability in the NHS, contrary to the Government's stated intentions.

Jane Leighton, chairman of Waveney PCT, said she was disappointed with the recommendation but welcomed the interest of the Secretary of State.

She added: “We are also encouraged the SHA is seeking to ensure funding is protected to 2008.

“The regard shown for our general practitioners must now be translated into practical safeguards and progress.”

Dr Chris Carney, chief executive of the East Anglian Ambulance Service, said: “The recommendation by the SHA for a single SHA across the East of England naturally leads to the recommendation for a single East of England ambulance and emergency care organisation.

“We are determined to see the good practice that we've worked hard to achieve over the past five years carry on to any new organisation and ensure there is no impact on patient care and staff are well looked after.”

But Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said: “Only a wholly arrogant SHA could possibly have recommended this.

“The sensible answer is for a Waveney and Great Yarmouth PCT and an East and West Suffolk PCT which will be nearer to the people and be able to do the job properly and would in fact be cheaper.

“The idea we should have an ambulance service covering this large area is wholly against the interests of local people. It's entirely bureaucratic. There is no evidence it will save money but every evidence local services will suffer.”

And Jeremy Peters, spokesman for the East Suffolk Primary Care Trusts, said no merger had been formally agreed.

He added: “There is no doubt there will be redundancies if it does happen but they will be non-clinical posts and on the whole managers.”

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