'Use £19b reserves to save Suffolk NHS'

USE your spare £19bn to save Suffolk's health service - that's the pre Budget appeal to Chancellor Gordon Brown from a Suffolk MP.Conservative John Gummer has discovered there's a reserve of £19bn in the National Insurance Fund, and the money is ring-fenced, which means it can only be spent on pensions and the health service.

By Graham Dines

USE your spare £19bn to save Suffolk's health service - that's the pre Budget appeal to Chancellor Gordon Brown from a Suffolk MP.

Conservative John Gummer has discovered there's a reserve of £19bn in the National Insurance Fund, and the money is ring-fenced, which means it can only be spent on pensions and the health service.

“But it appears the cash is being diverted to bolster the Chancellor's spending,” claimed Mr Gummer, who MP for Suffolk Coastal.


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The MP, who has led campaigns to save hospitals, wards and services from closure as the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts battle to wipe out a £26m debt, said: “This sum in the reserve is way above what must be left in the National Insurance Fund as a working balance and what's more, it is expected to rise to £60bn by 2010.”

“I am asking that the cash be used to wipe out the debts of the PCTs so that we can start the financial year with a clean sheet. In that way, for example, we can avoid the closure of the Bartlet Hospital, save the night time closure of the Felixstowe Hospital's small injuries unit, save our mental health services, and keep the precious beds we have at Aldeburgh Hospital.”

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Mr Gummer has tabled a series of written parliamentary questions, asking Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt whether she has discussed with the Chancellor if she can use the money, and asking Gordon Brown if he has offered to release the reserve to Ms Hewitt to help debt-ridden PCTs.

“I am also asking the Chancellor what plans he has to deal with the situation of the Trusts and what plans he has to spend the £60bn he has in the National Insurance Fund.”

Suffolk's health scrutiny committee - comprising representatives from the county council and all seven districts - has formally objected to the closure plans put forward by the Suffolk East PCTs and is asking the Health Secretary to intervene to stop the closure of community facilities.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: “Spending on the NHS has grown at over 7% in real terms in the last few years as the Government has invested in essential front-line services, rectifying decades of under investment.

“'The Government raises money to fund this essential spending through taxation and any decisions about the future of health spending will taken as part of next year's Comprehensive Spending Review.”

Peter Mellor, a member of the Save Felixstowe Hospitals campaign, said that if a reserve of money had been built up, it would seem logical to spend it on reducing health debts.

“Another way to protect our health facilities would be to scrap or seriously reduce the Strategic Health Authority because there is no logical reason for it to exist, and use the savings for frontline services.”

The Chancellor presents his Budget to the House of Commons on Wednesday. This afternoon >, Suffolk county council will debate the NHS funding crisis, and in particular the planned merger of the five PCTs into one county-wide body.

Waveney PCT wants to opt out and join forces with Great Yarmouth.

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