Report criticises NHS finance failures

CASH-strapped health bodies across Suffolk are failing to properly manage their resources, a new report reveals today.The Healthcare Commission is due to publish a new survey of primary care, mental health and hospital trusts across the country.

CASH-strapped health bodies across Suffolk are failing to properly manage their resources, a new report reveals today.

The Healthcare Commission is due to publish a new survey of primary care, mental health and hospital trusts across the country.

And it will paint a bleak picture of the medical services in Suffolk, with most trusts being branded as “weak” in terms of their use of resources.

They also fare badly when it comes to quality of services, with each ranked only as “fair” in this category.

Things appear to be slightly better in Essex, where most trusts were rated as “good” in their provision of services and management of resources, although two were said to be “weak” in this respect.

Each NHS Trust has been scored on many aspects of its performance based on a range of information gathered throughout the year, rating them either excellent, good, fair or weak. This includes the care and treatment patients receive, performance against national government targets and use of resources, replacing the old star-rating system.

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Sandra Chittenden, of the commission, said patients in Suffolk should not be overly worried about the relatively poor rating of the county's bodies.

She said: “In performing 'fair' in terms of quality of service, what patients are getting is what we judge to be an adequate service.

“There's room for improvement and we would be expecting the trusts in Suffolk to look at the particular areas where they could do better and improve quickly. But it doesn't mean there's cause for concern.

“The 'weak' score for use of resources reflects what we know to be a financial deficit problem which has been in Suffolk for some time. The strategic health authority is responsible for making sure this improves.”

But last night, two MPs claimed the report proved Suffolk's health service, which is struggling with tens of millions of pounds of debt, is failing.

Richard Spring, Conservative MP for West Suffolk, alleged: “We have had a very clear view in Suffolk of how poorly the PCTs have performed for some time now.

“We now have more bureaucrats than beds in the NHS in Suffolk and have had constant reorganisation.

“The level of interference and bureaucracy and target-setting imposed by all the PCTs has meant their service performance is actually very poor.

“You only have to look at the extent of the financial crisis in Suffolk to see how poorly this has been managed.”

Tim Yeo, Tory MP for South Suffolk, said: “Obviously it's worrying for patients as we are now going to experience some cuts and they will need to be properly managed.

“It's also disappointing for staff, many of whom are working extremely hard on the front line. I think they're being let down by the management. This report is probably an accurate reflection of the health service in Suffolk.”

The trusts last night defended their performance, saying many other organisations across the country had also received poor ratings.

The ratings were based on various criteria, including meeting government and national targets, providing services for children in hospital, medicines management, diagnostic services and admissions management.

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said: “The overall rating of 'fair' was based on a self-assessment process. We failed only two of the 44 standards and in five others we felt that we were compliant.

“The 'weak' rating for use of resources reflects the trust's well-publicised financial position for 2005/06. Our new financial recovery and business plan outlines a robust plan to achieve financial stability.”

Julian Herbert, director of finance and performance for the newly formed Suffolk PCT, said work was under way to improve health care provision.

“Now the PCTs are working as one organisation, we will take this opportunity to achieve all the main targets in the future and make the most of new practices and new technology to improve health care for the people of Suffolk,” he said.

Mark Halladay, chief executive of Suffolk Mental Health Partnership, said being assessed as “fair” represented a step forward.

“It is a significant improvement on the zero star rating under the old regime that we have had over the last two years,” he said.

“The Annual Health Check is more comprehensive and therefore tougher system of assessing performance. This result is a great credit to our staff, who have worked so hard to develop good mental health services in Suffolk.”

Ambulance crews in East Anglia were found to provide a “good” quality service and “fair” use of resources, while Essex crews scored “good” on both counts.

Dr Chris Carney, chief executive of the new East of England Ambulance Service, said: “We are very pleased with this result, which is testament to the skills and dedication of the staff and management of the old East Anglian service covering Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

“The task now is to ensure that these successes are continued and built upon under the auspices of the new East of England service, which includes Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire.”

North Essex Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust is rated as good in both the new criteria.

Mary St Aubyn, chairwoman of the trust, said: “We're delighted with these ratings. They indicate we are consistently performing to a high standard, and are well on our way to delivering on our vision to provide 'top quality, best value care'.”

The two NHS organisations which joined together earlier this month to form North East Essex Primary Care Trust - Colchester PCT and Tendring PCT - also provided good quality services and use of resources.

Paul Zollinger Read, chief executive of North East Essex PCT, said: “They demonstrate the new organisation has a strong foundation on which to build further improvements for the people and patients of North East Essex.”

Mike Stonard, chief executive of the Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT, said being rated as “fair” was a “good basis upon which to build”.

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