Health claim 'astounding' NHS boss said

HEALTH secretary Patricia Hewitt has come under fire from one of Suffolk's top NHS bosses over her claims that the service has enjoyed its best year ever.

HEALTH secretary Patricia Hewitt has come under fire from one of Suffolk's top NHS bosses over her claims that the service has enjoyed its best year ever.

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), said she was astounded at the comments Ms Hewitt made last month.

Speaking at a meeting to discuss the future of Aldeburgh Hospital, Mrs Taylor-Brown said: “That is the most insensitive remark I have heard from a politician.

“I was astounded by that. It has been a very challenging year and unsettling, and difficult decisions have been made.

“I know many people have been very distraught about what has gone on and for us in the PCT it has not been comfortable.”

Her comments come on the day that another 200 NHS jobs have been axed at a hospital in Chichester.

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Mrs Taylor-Brown said the Suffolk East PCTs had been faced with a “horror position” to cut millions of pounds of debt but that they had stopped overspending and had achieved targets set by the Department of Health.

Aldeburgh Hospital's League of Friends warned that job vacancies were causing operational difficulties at the hospital but Mrs Taylor-Brown said “demoralised” staff would eventually be rewarded with a vibrant community hospital.

Mrs Taylor-Brown said: “Staff are demoralised. Vacancies are causing real operational problems here and in Ipswich.

“But our commitment remains, not just to the hospital in Aldeburgh but also to refurbish the Felixstowe General Hospital. We want to develop local services - and I see a very vibrant future for Aldeburgh hospital.”

At Aldeburgh, the aim is to reduce the number of NHS commissioned beds to about 20 by September and use inpatient beds as short-term placements for people too unwell to stay at home but who do not need an acute hospital. An alternative commissioner will be found for the remaining 12 beds.

However, the future of the NHS in east Suffolk remains clouded in uncertainty after the county's health scrutiny committee decided to refer the Suffolk East PCTs' plans - which include closing the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe - to Ms Hewitt. This means everything is on hold until she makes a decision.

Mrs Taylor-Brown told the meeting at the parish church hall: “We are somewhat frustrated. West Suffolk PCT's plans were not referred and we feel that east Suffolk had made a much stronger case. We can not see any logicality or basis other than the politics of the moment as to why our case was referred, but not west Suffolk's.”