Essex health boss makes debt pledge

THE chief executive of a primary care trust (PCT) currently £1.8million over budget yesterday pledged to balance its books by April.And Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, of North East Essex PCT, said that over the three coming years he had set the trust a goal of saving 100,000 years of human life in the Colchester and Tendring areas.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE chief executive of a primary care trust (PCT) currently £1.8million over budget yesterday pledged to balance its books by April.

And Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, of North East Essex PCT, said that over the three coming years he had set the trust a goal of saving 100,000 years of human life in the Colchester and Tendring areas.

Dr Zollinger-Read added that, in the short term, a 55-day action plan - begun on January 15 - would provide strict monitoring and management of money-saving procedures throughout the organisation.

If successful, the plan will ensure that by March 30 - the end of this financial year - the PCT will have met its Government-set target of reducing its deficit to £4 million.

He dismissed the inclusion of the instruction “Cry !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” on official trust papers signalling the end of the 55-day plan as a probable joke among staff members that had been issued accidentally.

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And he added that a five-year strategic plan for the trust - formed in October by the merger of the former Tendring and Colchester PCTs - would see it try to address inconsistencies in the health of people living in north east Essex.

“What I wanted to do was to see how we can save 100,000 years of life over the next three years.

“There are extremely different inequalities in the area and we need to work out what the services should look like, and what the public think about them.

“We have looked at the area ward by ward and there are very large inequalities in places not very far apart. It's absolutely startling.”

Dr Zollinger-Read said that for people living in Clacton's Pier Ward the life expectancy was 70.1 years, while in Alresford life expectancy was 83.4 years - a difference of more than 13 years.

“There are six particular wards that we hope to extend life in, if we can achieve lifestyle change,” he said.

Dr Zollinger-Read also defended the PCT's controversial policy of enforcing minimum waiting list times, which one Colchester General Hospital consultant told North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin meant patients cannot be seen for 20 weeks.

“We are achieving the waiting times we have been set,” he said. “Unfortunately, hospitals do not always see patients in turn. It's like being in a cinema queue with people pushing in.

“What we need is a system in which people needing to see someone urgently are seen straightaway, and everyone else is seen in turn.

“If your next-door neighbour is referred to the same consultant as you but gets seen quicker, that means you have to wait longer.

“We are given waiting list targets and we are hitting every one. If we direct more funding to achieving even lower waiting times, where should we make cuts? Heart treatment, or cancer drugs?”

Dr Zollinger-Read also said that there had been positive feedback from a recent “Fitness For Purpose” assessment and that he was confident for the future of the PCT.

“We are in a situation that needs to be sorted out, but we are not cutting things. I think next year is going to be a positive year,” he said.

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