Calls to wipe out health debt

WIPE the debt and save our health service!That is The Evening Star's call to the government today in a bid to free Suffolk's health services from crippling and seemingly never-ending cash-crises.

WIPE the debt and save our health service!

That is The Evening Star's call to the government today in a bid to free Suffolk's health services from crippling and seemingly never-ending cash-crises.

As it emerged that the NHS has underspent by a record £1.8billion, the Star is asking for the money to be injected into the county's ailing health services.

At the beginning of the financial year Ipswich Hospital was still £17million in debt with Suffolk PCT owing nearly £36m in old debt.

Both the hospital and the PCT were forced to take cost-cutting measures in an effort to balance the books, with the hospital slashing nearly 300 posts and the PCT closing community hospitals like the Bartlet in Felixstowe.

Prue Rush from the Ipswich Hospital patient and public involvement forum, an independent body set up to monitor the hospital, backed the call to write-off the debts.

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She said: “It would mean everything to every hospital to be debt-free.

“At the moment there is a general atmosphere of 'we've got to save this much'.

“I would say to the Department of Health that your hospitals work hard and it is time to repay them.

“If this money is real money, not paper money, it would be great if could go back into areas where there are crippling debts.

“The NHS should put their money where their mouth is.

“Wiping the debt would be giving health services a clean slate to start again, giving them a chance to do their jobs without worrying about money.”

Mervyn Baxter, chairman of the Ipswich Hospital branch of UNISON also said he would love to see the hospital's debt reduced to zero, but added he thought it would be unlikely.

He said: “It would be nice if the debt was wiped but as long as the money is reinvested in patients that is the main concern.

“The turnaround at Ipswich Hospital has achieved quite a lot and we are getting better financially but we've still got a long way to go and having no debts would help.”

Would you like to see Suffolk PCT's and Ipswich Hospital's debts wiped? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

NHS view

THE East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) is predicting it will record a surplus of £46m for this financial year, rising to £90m at the end of 2007/8.

However a spokeswoman for the SHA said the money would not be spent on PCTs or hospitals other than those that achieved the surplus. Suffolk PCT is not predicting a surplus by the end of the year.

The spokeswoman said: “The NHS in the east of England has already made a significant financial achievement by reducing our debt from £230million in 2005/6 to £154m in 2006/7.

“As a region will be debt-free by 31 March 2008 and are forecasting a small surplus of £90m for the year 2007/8.

“The SHA has provided support to NHS organisations in the region to ensure they have robust financial plans in place in order to meet their statutory duty to achieve financial balance and live within their means.

“Surpluses made by individual PCTs will be protected for use by that PCT to invest in future patient services. Surpluses in one PCT will not be used against deficits in other PCTs.”

NHS underspend

A MASSIVE underspend of £1.8billion is a record for the NHS, but its chief executive has still defended the figure as “relatively small”.

David Nicholson accepted that there would be well over a billion pounds lying unused in the service's budgets when official figures for 2007-8 are released.

He told the Commons Health Select Committee: "It's still in percentage terms relatively manageable.

“Any big organisation like ours, which turns over £100bn, within two per cent it seems to me is a reasonable place to be.

“We are certainly not saying to people that they cannot spend the money.

“That surplus is not with us at the centre. I haven't got it in a safe in my office. It's actually out there with the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).

“It really is a matter for local PCTs as to how to use these resources.”

The projected surplus of £1.8 billion, calculated by the Health Service Journal, is more than treble the £510million surplus in 2006/07 and comes after a deficit of £547million in 2005/06.

STATE of the county

Ipswich Hospital: At the beginning of the financial year the Heath Road hospital was facing historic debts of £17million.

Initially the hospital was hoping to cut its debt by £10m during 2007/8 but, as The Evening Star reported earlier this month, pressure to meet government targets saw it revise its target to £5m.

Instead it will invest an unplanned £2.5m in infection control and shortening waiting times.

The Star also revealed in September that the bid to slash £10m of debt was already £1.7m behind target because it had not done as many operations as it needed to get maximum funding.

Hospital chiefs said at the time it was hopeful it could make up the shortfall through the rest of the financial year and Andrew Reed, the hospital's chief executive, has pledged the hospital will be debt-free by 2009.

Suffolk PCT: In April Suffolk PCT was facing a whopping debt of almost £36million.

So far this year it has clawed back around £5m with a current debt of just under £31m. However it remains the sixth most debt-ridden PCT in England and Wales.

Much of the debt was amassed before the current single PCT was created and instead the county was made up of Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal, Suffolk Central and Suffolk West PCTs.

In the last two years there have been no financial overspends and recently the PCT was moved from monthly to quarterly monitoring by the Strategic Health Authority, a sign of its improving performance.

It now hopes to have a debt of £12m in March 2008 and get rid of all its historic debt during 2008/9.

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