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Bury St Edmunds: West Suffolk Hospital’s viability put under pressure

PUBLISHED: 08:39 31 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:39 31 March 2014

West Suffolk Hospital A&E.

West Suffolk Hospital A&E.

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Fears for the future viability of West Suffolk Hospital have been raised by national and local health chiefs unless pressure can be eased on its services – but emergency admissions are continuing to increase.

A&E activity at the hospital has increased by around 5% each month since December, when activity was already up by around 7% compared to last year, and staff are reportedly weary and taking time off to cope with the relentless strain.

A new two-year plan for healthcare in west Suffolk to ease pressure on the hospital was signed off by the area’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) on Wednesday, with the CCG also backing early plans to introduce urgent care hubs to treat all but the worst emergency patients.

But the same report from the CCG said West Suffolk’s district general hospital model “appears non-viable” unless changes can be made.

Health watchdog Monitor has also raised concerns about the future viability of the trust, and last year launched an investigation into the challenges facing smaller hospitals such as West Suffolk.

Hospital chief executive Stephen Graves said: “We are not alone and are experiencing the same unprecedented financial pressures as other acute hospitals across the region.

“As a result, we are constantly looking for ways to work more efficiently, so that we can continue to deliver effective, sustainable services without compromising on quality.

“It is important the whole health and social care system – and not just acute hospitals – works together more closely to address these challenges. Not only will this help ease pressure on hospital services, but will also benefit patients by ensuring they can receive care in the most appropriate setting to meet their needs.”

At Friday’s board of directors meeting, executive chief operating officer Jon Green said February and March “had seen a steep increase in the amount of activity coming through the organisation”, adding there was a “weariness” among the staff that was contributing to an above-average rate of absences.

While it is not uncommon for hospital trusts to end up with deficits, West Suffolk is due to end the year £4million in the red - £7m worse off than budgeted.

Financial forecasts for next year see it ending with an £8m deficit, although directors said this was a worst-case scenario and expected improvements.

A spokesman for West Suffolk CCG said it was “absolutely committed” to the future of the hospital, adding: “Our two-year plan sets out how we aim to improve patient care and reduce pressure on hospital services, for example through maintaining the health and independence of individuals in the community and through an improved urgent care system.

“This will support the long-term future of the hospital.”

West Suffolk suffers from the affect of the marginal tariff, which means hospitals receive only 30 per cent of funding for emergency patients beyond a baseline level, which was set according to the numbers of patients it treated in 2008/09.

Monitor’s investigation is looking at all hospitals with an annual turnover of less than £300m.

West Suffolk’s income this year is due to be £167m, making it one of only 18 nonspecialist foundation trusts in the country with a turnover under £200m.

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