Region 'short-changed' by health funding

MANY parts of Suffolk and Essex are being “seriously short-changed” by huge regional differences in funding for health services, it can be revealed.The Government is proposing to spend £1,274 per head across England in 2006-7 but in some parts of the region the funding drops by more than £200.

MANY parts of Suffolk and Essex are being “seriously short-changed” by huge regional differences in funding for health services, it can be revealed.

The Government is proposing to spend £1,274 per head across England in 2006-7 but in some parts of the region the funding drops by more than £200.

That contrasts with the constituencies of leading Government figures, including that of Prime Minister Tony Blair, where the money being spent comfortably outstrips the national average.

It has also emerged that if Suffolk's PCTs were all paid the national average for funding next year, their combined debts of about £80m could be wiped out.

Last night, MPs warned the region was getting a “raw deal” over funding for healthcare and accused the Government of discriminating against rural areas.

Next year, every PCT area in Suffolk will receive less than the national average spending per head, with Suffolk West the lowest at £1,051 - £223 per head below the standard for England. It has been given a budget of £256.7m for a population of 244,287.

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Except Tendring, every PCT area in north Essex also falls short of the national average, with Uttlesford as low as £1,014. It has £73.8m to spend on 72,828 people.

But in Mr Blair's constituency of Sedgefield, the proposed spending is £1,442 per head - £168 above the average - and Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt's Leicester City West constituency will also benefit from an above-average £1,306 per head.

Simon Burns, Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, said: “I am appalled at this bias which means that my constituents are being given a raw deal over their primary healthcare funding compared to other areas of the county which happen to be Labour heartlands with senior ministers as their MPs, including the Prime Minister himself.”

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for Suffolk West, said: “I am sick to death of my constituents and the people of Suffolk getting the short straw.

“We have the lowest spending per capita in the NHS and also the highest debts - we are being seriously shortchanged and the situation is only going to get worse.

“Parts of the country like Suffolk are being discriminated against in favour of urban Labour heartlands because of the funding formula - it is happening at every level of Government.”

Suffolk is currently in the grip of a health cash crisis, with community hospitals facing closure and jobs under threat as bosses bid to pay back debts of about £80m.

But if all of the county's five PCTs received the national average funding per head, the extra cash would amount to £80.8.

The cash shortfall caused by funding below the national average in Suffolk is set to rise to more than £93m in 2007-8.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The weighted capitation formula is made up of the following components: a count of the population served by the PCT; an adjustment to reflect difference in the age of the population; an adjustment to reflect other factors that affect the need for health care, such as deprivation; and an adjustment to reflect unavoidable differences in cost (the market forces factor).

“Following the introduction of the new formula in 2002, despite progress, some areas were still not receiving their fair share of funding.

“For the 2006-8revenue allocations, it was decided to move PCTs more quickly towards their fair share of funds.

“As a result of this allocations' round, no PCT will be more than 3.5% below its fair share of funds by the end of 2007-8.”

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