Debts will mean cuts for mental health

FRONT line health services are to be cut for the first time as the financial crisis gripping Suffolk's health service begins to hit home, the Evening Star can reveal todayMental health bosses have become the first in the county to admit that the need to save money WILL have a negative impact on patient care.

FRONT line health services are to be cut for the first time as the financial crisis gripping Suffolk's health service begins to hit home, the Evening Star can reveal today

Mental health bosses have become the first in the county to admit that the need to save money WILL have a negative impact on patient care.

As the Strategic Health Authority begins to demand more assertive action, the trust are being forced to look at the temporary closure of clinics, day services and an inpatient ward.

Mark Halladay, chief executive of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust, said: "I'm really sorry to have to do it. It's not particularly in the interests of client care today but in the interests of financial management.

"If we can demonstrate the financial capability now, while it may undermine the very high standards we've got at the moment, it will help with improving patient care for the future."

The trust are being asked to make £1m of savings in just two months, in order to balance the books by the end of the financial year.

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Last week all staff within the trust were sent a letter outlining a series of measures that may have to be taken to make the savings by the end of March.

No definite decisions have been made yet but savings may come through withdrawing the use of agency staff and locum psychiatrists.

Mr Halladay said: "For the next two and a half months we feel we can't support agency staff and this could mean relatively high risk areas like inpatient wards might end up short-staffed.

"We'll need to move staff around to combat this so the kinds of service we would be looking at reducing would be those that are less clinically focused, those that are only open during the day."

The changes could also mean closing an entire in-patient ward at St Clement's, which would be done through merging wards where there are currently empty beds.

Other measures the trust may implement include reviewing the numbers of staff on long-term sickness leave and trying to help them back to work or releasing them from their contracts if they are unable to return.

They are also hoping to work closely with social services to look at ways of getting people who are well enough to be in the community out of inpatient beds.

Mr Halladay said: "We had been hoping to be allowed to overspend slightly this year but the NHS regionally is saying we can't afford for you to do this, you've got to pull back.

"All the trusts are being asked to do more than they are at the moment to achieve financial balance.

"We are all being asked to achieve some fairly tough targets.

"We pride ourselves on providing really high standards of care but under these kinds of circumstances we may have to be satisfied, and we may have to ask our patients to be satisfied, with the basic care that we can offer.

"If we have to take these measures it will only affect a minority of patients and no-one will be without the care they need."

Mr Halladay said he hoped the actions the trust are taking now will help with plans to redevelop the St Clement's site.

A spokesman for the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority said: "The message we've been trying to get out to all organisations is that if you don't get your finances under control there will be serious implications for patients.

"If this trust come to us with a business case saying 'we want to redevelop St Clement's Hospital and provide these services', but they've got an existing deficit, it would not make sense to fund it if people have not got confidence it's going to be managed within its costs.

"What the trust are doing now is just prudent financial management. If they can get that position under control the benefits next year will be immeasurable.

"We are all 100 per cent agreed that every penny of tax-payers money should go towards better services and better quality of life, but what we've also got to do is make sure people within local organisations deliver good services within a financial framework.

"It's not that we are being uncompromising. Someone has to say it otherwise who would make sure spending did not go out of control?"

Discussions are continuing within the trust as to what action will be taken.

What do you think about the measures? How will they affect you? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

A chief executive of one of Suffolk's leading mental health charities today said he thinks the trust have been put in an "impossible" situation.

Ian Hartley, of East Suffolk Mind, said he also fears a decrease in the services provided by the trust could see more people turning to the charity - which already has waiting lists for many of its services.

He said: "If people can't get a service from the hospital or from the mental health trust they are going to be looking around to see if they can get help elsewhere.

"I imagine we could well find more people coming to us.

"We only have sufficient resources to do what we already do and some of our services already have waiting lists building."

Anthony Dooley, chairman of the Suffolk User Forum, which represents mental health patients, said it is important that decisions are made as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary distress.

"We would welcome an early statement from the trust that day services will be unaffected, or largely unaffected, by its financial decisions in the next two months."

ROSIE WINTERTON, MP WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR ADULT MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, OCTOBER 2004:

"I believe we should strive as a government to ensure we provide high quality mental health services, accessible to all who need them. That we create a working environment where we value our staff and maximise their potential. No longer a cinderella service but a service people have confidence in using and real satisfaction in working for."

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