Tory leader visits region's hospitals

CONSERVATIVE leader David Cameron yesterday laid the blame for the financial crisis facing hospital and NHS trusts in East Anglia firmly at the door of the Government.

By Graham Dines

CONSERVATIVE leader David Cameron yesterday laid the blame for the financial crisis facing hospital and NHS trusts in East Anglia firmly at the door of the Government.

He said clinicians and managers were doing their best to get trusts out of deficit, but were being hit by constant ministerial meddling in the way the health service was organised.

Mr Cameron began a two day tour of England's hospitals at Ipswich, which is axing 350 posts and reorganising services in a bid to wipe out a £24m deficit, the third worst debt of any NHS trust in the six counties of the East of England.

He was briefed by hospital managers on the reasons for the debts and then visited the orthopaedic surgical Saxmundham ward and the acute medical assessment unit.

He met Dr John Hodgkinson, clinical director of emergency medicine, Mike Shanahan, clinical director of orthopaedics and trauma, Mike Brookes, the hospital trusts' chairman, and chief executive Andrew Reed.

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He also saw construction work on the new £45m Garrett Anderson wing, which will house a state-of-the-art accident and emergency department and which is due to open in 2008.

“This hospital is having to make substantial cuts and there are real worries about the effect they will have,” said Mr Cameron.

“I have been to the medical assessment unit where, because the GP out-of-hours service is not functioning in the way it used to and because community hospitals are closing, there are 20% more patients being seen.

“The hospital is facing cuts at a time when it is having to do more work. This is a serious situation and it must be put right for the future.

“Ipswich Hospital is working hard to reduce its deficit. The staff want to do the job they are employed to do - to treat patients.

“But all the changes introduced by the Government, the cuts that are being made, and the financial pressures, are getting in the way.

“Let's stop all the reorganisations. There have been nine in the past nine years. There must be less political interference and more trust in our health professionals.

“We must stop the top-down targets which are being imposed on the NHS by the Government.”

Mr Cameron denied he was using Ipswich and other hospitals as a political football. He wanted more investment in the NHS combined with more trust in the staff.

“Of course politicians have to set the overall amount of money that is given to the health service every year.

“But once it is allocated, we should leave it to the professionals and the staff - we must trust the clinicians to make the right decisions.”

“It was nine years ago that we were told by Tony Blair that there was just 24 hours to save the National Health Service.

“Did anyone then ever believe that it would end with 350 proposed job cuts at this hospital in Ipswich and 3,500 across the eastern region?

“There will be tensions and difficulties in the NHS, but it is hard to believe that the extra money put in the health service could now lead to cuts in services and hospital closures.”

Mr Cameron said the Tories wanted to see more money spent on the health service and acknowledged that twice as much was being spent by the Labour government today than 10 years' ago. “But would anyone say the NHS is twice as good as then?

“There has been a huge amount of waste and mismanagement caused by endless and expensive reorganisations forced by the Government.

“The Royal College of Nursing, not the Conservative Party, has said 20,000 posts are being lost. The money being put into the NHS has not been spent well and for that the blame must lie with the Government.”

Mr Cameron will use the information gained from his two-day visit to hospitals to help formulate the Conservative Party's policy on the health service for the next General Election.

The Department of Health declined to comment last night.

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