Hospital on the road to recovery

IPSWICH Hospital has gone through what is arguably its hardest year in history.Financial meltdown has caused bed losses and job cuts, and penny-pinching has attracted criticism from patients, staff, watchdogs and the government.

IPSWICH Hospital has gone through what is arguably its hardest year in history.

Financial meltdown has caused bed losses and job cuts, and penny-pinching has attracted criticism from patients, staff, watchdogs and the government. Today, as the reins of spending are loosened and the light at the end of the tunnel appears, health reporter HAZEL BYFORD reports.

IPSWICH Hospital is finally off the Department of Health's blacklist.

It might not be the 'teacher's pet' yet, but it's got a gold star in the right direction.

In the course of a year, the hospital has performed above expectations in financial terms - turning a 2005/06 £12million deficit into a 2006/07 £1m profit.

With historic debts still standing at around £17m, there is still a long way to go until things are rosy again.

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But chief executive Andrew Reed said while the improvement has not bought them completely out of debt, it has bought them time - and now it is looking forward. He said: “One year ago we were in financial meltdown on the back of an unforeseen £12m deficit. That was a very grim time.

“We then went into the recovery plan, that's been in place since September, with startling ambitions about money to be saved and the affects on jobs and so on.

“Now, with our audited accounts being published this week (w/c 25 june), we are showing £1m surplus for 2006/07.

“We are all relieved and delighted to be able to make such big progress financially and we move from being on the Department of Health's blacklist of trusts likely to fail, to the list of those doing really well.

“Where we are now compared to a year ago has changed a great deal. And where we see the future, with the Garrett Anderson Centre on its way, we have lots to look forward to and lots of big changes to expect.

“The hospital is also beginning to invest again. We have invested in cleaning, spinal surgery and are in the process of recruiting a third cardiologist.”

Mr Reed said it has hit all its key waiting list targets, with cancer services and A&E waiting times going particularly well. Superbug infection rates have also improved in the last quarter.

However, these achievements and others have not come without a price. Jobs have gone, beds have gone and staff have been forced in to accepting a way of working which is not just about making people better

Mr Reed said: Our staff have learnt we've got to keep to financial disciplines.

“There's still an awful lot to do in terms of debt repayment. Although we are now in a position where we can start putting clinical staff back in the driving seat, we need to make sure they are driving with an income/expenditure balance in mind.

“We need to make sure the 3,000 staff are being vigilant, rather than the core of 50 at the centre of the organisation as it has been leading it.

“The conversations I've had with staff show they do have an appetite to get involved in this way and if staff are driving for great clinical quality but understand the financial dynamic, we will get the desired effect. There will be staff who don't want to get involved with management in this way, but we have to reengage them to make sure morale is as high as it can be.

“The good news is our improved financial performance has bought us time for that.

“With a huge debt we didn't have time - we had to find savings and drive them out quickly.”

It has been widely publicised that the hospital's cost-cutting methods have not always been backed by staff and the community.

There was a furore over the axe of 71 beds, 357 jobs and four operating theatres and only after The Evening Star intervened was the plan to axe up to 30 nurse specialists stopped, with eventually 16 posts going but the staff being transferred.

Most recently, the reshuffle of medical secretaries attracted criticism for leading to GPs' and patients' correspondence falling behind, notes going missing and staff morale hitting rock bottom.

Mr Reed admits some of the unpopular changes were “draconian” but said most changes have gone well.

He said: “We recognise what a difficult year it's been for staff.”

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Do you think the hospital has done enough this year? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Ipswich Hospital is currently in negotiations with the East of England Strategic Health Authority about becoming a Foundation Trust. That would see decision-making about how money is spent, taken away from government and handed to the community.

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