Health pact welcomed but jobs may go
HEALTH chiefs have welcomed Government moves to merge three of the region's health authorities as part of a nationwide shake-up within the NHS.The new system, which will take effect from April next year, will see Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire health authorities combined into a single strategic body to save money and cut bureaucracy.
HEALTH chiefs have welcomed Government moves to merge three of the region's health authorities as part of a nationwide shake-up within the NHS.
The new system, which will take effect from April next year, will see Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire health authorities combined into a single strategic body to save money and cut bureaucracy.
As one of 28 new joint authorities to be created across the country, the organisation will be called the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority.
Joanna Spicer, chairman of Suffolk Health Authority, welcomed the government's decision to press ahead with the idea, saying it allowed doctors and nurses to be more involved with the decision-making process.
"Far from reducing the power base, it's going to be more spread out with the changes. The new centre of responsibility is with the primary care trusts and we will now have five of them instead of one," she said.
"Primary care trusts are very good for the future. The real benefit is the money and decision-making as these will be much closer to where our services are actually provided.
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"GPs and doctors will be more closely involved in the decision making process. Primary care trusts will have the ability to do things that health authorities could not do in terms of developing new services. The strategic authority will be more responsible for performance," she added.
The Government has already appointed chairpersons and chief executives who will lead the new authorities, although the legislation to set them up will not pass through Parliament until October.
It is believed the new arrangement will save £100 million – although the future of up to 500 jobs is in doubt with the closure of 10 regional NHS offices.
Five new primary care trusts will be set up throughout the county, in West Suffolk, central Suffolk, Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney.
Despite welcoming the merge, Mrs Spicer said it would involve a lot of organisation work at a time when the county's health authority was facing mounting financial pressures.
"It's a sensible move but we are a little apprehensive about the months ahead because it's a difficult time for organisational change, particularly with our fragile financial position and the demanding targets set by the government," she said.
South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo gave the merge a cautious welcome, and said only improvements shown in waiting lists and the quality of care would indicate whether a united authority was successful.
"Many of my constituents are worried about long waiting lists and the quality of care when they go into hospital. If this helps us to achieve these things then it is a good idea," he said.
"I am nervous when we tinker with administrative structure every few years as it's not always clear that there will be an improvement.
"If decisions can be made closer to the patients it is a good idea but we will judge this by the results it achieves in practice," he added.
The announcement of the merge comes at the same time the Department of Health released hospital waiting list figures for the county.
At the end of September 147 patients in Suffolk had been waiting more than 15 months for treatment or an operation, however Mrs Spicer said that by the end of November no patients had been waiting for that length of time.
"I am pleased that we managed to meet the targets set by the Government but there's no complacency on our behalf as there are still too many people on waiting lists," she said.