Healthworkers fear the worst for NHS

A STUNNED health worker has today said he fears the worst for Suffolk's ailing health service after revelations that they may not have been paid due to crippling debts.

A STUNNED health worker has today said he fears the worst for Suffolk's ailing health service after revelations that they may not have been paid due to crippling debts.

On Saturday The Evening Star revealed how East Suffolk's Primary Care Trust had made an eleventh hour u-turn over plans to delay the payments of NHS staff in March until the new financial year in April, because of a financial black hole.

And today union representative Dean Bevan told of staff's fears that the money may still not be found to pay them and questioned that if they were paid, what services would have to be cut to make up the shortfall.

Mr Bevan, a staff nurse at St Clement's Hospital in Foxhall Road Ipswich and a UNISON branch steward said that staff were incredulous at the thought of not being paid and that morale in the NHS was at an all time low.

He said: “People thought it was a joke. People thought I was winding them up.

“I don't think many members of the public fully appreciate how dire the situation actually is.

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“Morale is very, very low.”

Mr Bevan said a decision to defer pay, even by just a few days or a week could cause tremendous problems for staff.

He said: “Their reaction was 'how are we going to pay our bills?' People would be missing direct debit dates.

“There are also staff such as health care assistants who have lower incomes who have regular overdrafts and that would cause them significant problems.”

Mr Bevan said the union first heard of the possibility of deferred payments a couple of weeks ago and news gradually began to reach other staff, however he said many were unaware of the situation until the Star reported it on Saturday.

He said: “I was putting notices up but people did not believe it - they thought I was winding them up.”

And despite reassurances from the Strategic Health Authority that staff will be paid, Mr Bevan said there has been little confirmation that the money will actually be there.

He said: “We have not been reassured that we can be paid and what worries me is what services may have to be cut.”

As revealed in Saturday's Evening Star, health bosses made a dramatic u-turn after news leaked that they were considering withholding staff payments from March until April. Despite health chiefs earlier admitting that there was a possibility the service could run out of cash by the end of the financial year, news then came in that the Strategic Health Authority and Department of Health had insisted that deferring staff pay was not an option and that they would work with the Trust to make sure this did not happen.

Mr Bevan added that the situation where the trust runs out of money at the end of the financial year was not new, but in previous years the money had always been borrowed from the NHS.

He said: “But now the Government has clamped down and there is no more money. It is a ridiculous way to approach it.”

HOSPITAL bosses in Suffolk have claimed they could clear a backlog of 3,140 patients who must be seen before the end of the year - despite new figures revealing 326 of them do not even have appointments yet.

If the patients are not seen by the December 31, the hospitals will miss the Government's 13-week standard for outpatients and six-month wait for inpatients to be admitted for treatment.

The figures were released at the same time as new Department of Health data showed Ipswich Hospital cancelled 78 operations in the last quarter (July to September).

Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP John Gummer said he would be contacting Ipswich Hospital immediately for an explanation on how it would clear the backlog.

“What worries me is if these figures are right, it seems a pretty tough job. We are already in November and very nearly in December. It seems to me extremely difficult.”

But Ipswich Hospital spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said: “We are on target to meet the national requirement.

“Everyone who needs an inpatient treatment or routine operation is to be seen by the end of December 2005. Everyone needs first an outpatient appointment and most will be seen within 12 weeks.”

Suffolk East PCTs are currently battling with a £47million debt. The whole of the county is facing a £74million shortfall.

All services are being hit with threats of closure to community hospitals across the county, including the Felixstowe Bartlet.

There are also beds being cut at Ipswich Hospital along with one operating theatre.

Mental health services are also being affected with the proposed closure of day centres such as Bridge House and The Hollies in Ipswich and Old Fox House in Stowmarket.

The Government originally gave health trusts three years to sort out their financial problems and to create more community rather than hospital care - however earlier this year the deadline was cut to just one year magnifying their problems.