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Bury St Edmunds: West Suffolk Hospital improves financial forecast by £1.7million - but chief executive Stephen Graves is on his way out

09:09 28 July 2014

Stephen Graves, West Suffolk Hospital chief executive, who is leaving after more than four years.

Stephen Graves, West Suffolk Hospital chief executive, who is leaving after more than four years.

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Cash-strapped West Suffolk Hospital has been given a boost after it formally approved a £1.7million improvement in its end-of-year budget.

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However, it faces a period of uncertainty at the top with the departure of chief executive Stephen Graves, who is leaving the trust after more than four years.

There were warnings against complacency over its budgetary upturn at Friday’s board of directors meeting, when the hospital’s target deficit was rubber-stamped to drop from £8m to £6.3m.

Mr Graves still called the revised end-of-year position “unsustainable”, while the trust’s director of resources, Craig Black, added: “The thing I’m worried about is you could look at this report and feel a bit complacent.”

Mr Graves will leave the trust next month to become chief executive of the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Trust, which is facing 
a deficit of £40m this year.

Mr Graves, who was paid around £150,000 last year, said he was looking forward to “doing something very quirky”.

“I think this organisation has been at the forefront of pushing the patient safety agenda,” he added.

“If I can leave thinking and hopefully knowing that most people in this organisation get out of bed in the morning and think that’s an important thing, I can leave as a happy person.”

Board of directors chairman Roger Quince said: “He’s been a great chief executive and he’s leaving this place in a far better state than he found it when he arrived.”

Former medical director Dermot O’Riordan has been appointed as interim chief executive, with interviews to replace Mr Graves due to take place this week.

Dr Pam Chrispin has replaced Mr O’Riordan as medical director in the shake-up.

Friday’s meeting saw further warnings about local and national factors that could derail the 
hospital’s improving financial health.

Last weekend’s hot weather caused West Suffolk’s A&E department to have its first and third-busiest days on record.

Like all NHS hospitals, West Suffolk is subject to the marginal tariff, which means it receives only 30% of funding for providing non-elective (emergency or urgent) treatment above a baseline level.

The tariff aims to encourage investment in services outside A&E, but meant the hospital missed out 
on £3m in 2012/13 for emergency care it provided. While the hospital’s 
non-elective activity continues 
to rise, this has been offset with a bigger rise in pre-planned elective activity, for which it is paid the full tariff.

However, a national consultation on NHS tariff funding includes the possibility of introducing a similar tariff system for non-elective treatment.

“Our strategy is to grow our catchment area and to grow our elective activity that we are doing, because that explicitly subsidises the fact that we make a loss on emergency care,” said Mr Black.

“The potential change to the way elective activity is funded could have a significant impact on our strategy, but it very much depends on how that plays out.”

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