Hospital facing Mission Impossible

IPSWICH Hospital's chief executive is today facing Mission Impossible. With more than £11m of debts to clear in less than 12 months, he will have to make some difficult and unpopular decisions.

IPSWICH Hospital's chief executive is today facing Mission Impossible.

With more than £11m of debts to clear in less than 12 months, he will have to make some difficult and unpopular decisions.

SARAH GILLETT reports on the new crisis facing Suffolk's biggest hospital.

When Ipswich Hospital staff called a press conference to announce that they had discovered a hidden £7m financial blackhole, no-one looked more saddened than chief executive Andrew Reed.

Just three weeks earlier, when the hospital's debt was thought to stand at around £4.9m, he had to tell staff that 105 jobs would have to be cut, as well as a number of vital services.

But now, as revealed first in yesterday's Evening Star, the position is worse than anyone had imagined as end-of-year financial figures revealed the deficit now stands closer to £11m.

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Mr Reed described the news as a “huge blow” but insisted the hospital will work through it.

He said: “The consolation, if there is any, is that we've decided that we really need to understand what the financial state of the hospital is.

“We need to do that in the context that, although the government allocations for the NHS are relatively generous at the moment, we know that they will be coming down to ordinary inflation levels in a few years time and we need to have a solid financial base to build on then.”

Today Mr Reed and his management team will be making a start at climbing what appears to be an impossibly high mountain, alongside a team of independent auditors who have been called in to get to the bottom of just how the extra £7m debt could have gone undiscovered.

Their findings will be reported back in July, but in the meantime the hospital will be pressing forward with the changes already out-lined in their first financial recovery plan - which include closing Bucklesham ward and cutting 105 jobs.

A further raft of job cuts are expected in the wake of yesterday's revelations - news which will devastate already-frazzled staff.

If Mr Reed is hoping to get help from his bosses at the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) and the Department of Health he may find his pleas fall on deaf ears.

An SHA spokesman said: “We will be working closely with the trust's management team, giving advice and monitoring their progress but they will still be expected to pay back the debts by the end of the financial year.

“There will be no special treatment.”

Prue Rush, spokeswoman for the Ipswich Hospital Patient and Public Involvement Forum, said: “Yesterday's news will be a serious body-blow to the confidence of both patients and staff.

“It demonstrates how ridiculous the government's timescales for recovering debt are.

“This is the government's fault, I don't think it's a wilful overspend by the hospital.”

As one worker at the hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are expected to work with fewer staff, to help out other departments, and try to maintain high standards, but what do we get back?

“If we were not dedicated to helping others we would not tolerate this.”

While government spending on the NHS is at an all-time high there are a number of new initiatives and targets which have already helped to swallow this up and will continue to be a demand on the hospital's purse strings this year.

One that has the potential to have a big impact on the hospital is Choose and Book. Designed to give patients more choice over where they are treated, it means they are offered a choice of at least four health providers when their doctor refers them for hospital treatment.

This could mean that fewer patients choose to be treated at Ipswich, lessening the hospital's income.

Patients will also need to be seen more quickly as government waiting time targets continue to come down.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We understand that Ipswich Hospital has already invited in an independent review team in order to identify the reasons for its financial position, and we support this.

“Improving financial management does not mean compromising services for patients. The clinical needs of patients are always paramount in decisions about treatment and care and these are decisions made by doctors and nurses, not managers or politicians.”

weblink: www.ipswichhospital.org.uk

Save £20 million

Maintain the same level of service with less money and less staff

Keep staff morale up, despite staff having to do the same amounts of work with less colleagues to help them

Get waiting lists down and speed up waiting times

Oversee the creation of the Garrett Anderson Centre

Maintain patient safety

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