Hospital threatened with �1m fine

IPSWICH Hospital is today facing the threat of being slapped with a �1,000,000 fine from farm-buying NHS Suffolk for failing to treat patients quickly enough.

IPSWICH Hospital is today facing the threat of being slapped with a �1,000,000 fine from farm-buying NHS Suffolk for failing to treat patients quickly enough.

The cash-strapped Heath Road hospital is desperately trying to treat patients within 18 weeks, but is still failing to hit the target.

Now it expects its main commissioners, NHS Suffolk, to choose to withhold up to �1m of payment - a financial disaster for the hospital which needs a positive bank balance if it has any chance of gaining coveted Foundation Trust status.

The news comes just days after NHS Suffolk admitted it had splashed out nearly �500,000 on farmland opposite its plush Bramford headquarters for extra staff car parking. It also comes three years after the hospital was fined for doing precisely the opposite - treating people too quickly.

Andrew Reed, Ipswich Hospital's chief executive, said the hospital is believed to have already amassed fines of more than �600,000 since April, and expected the figure to grow until the 18 week target was hit again, hopefully at the end of September.

He added: “They haven't actually fined us anything yet, that will be decided at the end of the financial year.

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“The amount will grow, possibly up to about �1m.

“We have a financial plan to take us to a �3.3m surplus for this year, which is the minimum we need to achieve (to pay back a Department of Health loan).

“This (fine) is not helping. If we were not to be fined we would actually be ahead of our financial target at the moment.”

NHS Suffolk does not have to fine the hospital. Last year Ipswich Hospital did not achieve the 18 week target, but NHS Suffolk opted not to dish out the hefty penalty.

Andrew McDonald, deputy director of commissioning and development at NHS Suffolk, said the fines may be applied because the hospital had fallen below contractually agreed national standards.

“One of the standards states that all patients can expect to be referred to the hospital, and receiving the first stage of their treatment in less than 18 weeks - unless the patient chooses to wait longer, or, there are significant medical reasons why it would be appropriate to wait longer,” he added.

“At present, 15 to 20 per cent of patients at Ipswich Hospital currently have to wait considerably longer than 18 weeks.

“NHS Suffolk has, of course, discussed this regularly with Ipswich Hospital and we have issued a number of written performance and warning notices to remedy the situation. To date, the situation has not improved so the next stage is to consider applying fines, as set out in the contract. If these fines are applied, the money will be reinvested immediately into providing patient services.”

Should NHS Suffolk fine Ipswich Hospital up to �1,000,000? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

The farmland controversy

NHS Suffolk has sparked outrage by splashing out �475,000 on farmland opposite its Bramford headquarters.

The decision was taken in secret by the chairman and finance director and did not go to a public board meeting.

The trust, which buys and plans healthcare in the county, wants to convert the 2.5 hectare space into car parking, and possibly transform a dilapidated farmhouse into staff facilities.

The extra parking spaces are needed partly because NHS Suffolk's staffing numbers have more than doubled from 80 employees in 2006 to 190 today.

The trust was warned in 2006 not to buy an out-of-town site with no access to public transport and little parking - but it pushed ahead regardless.

FINES for treating patients too slowly - and too quickly

IF Ipswich Hospital faces a hefty fine for missing 18 week waiting times it will not be the first time it has faced a financial penalty for treating people outside specified time limits.

But ironically last time it was in trouble for treating people too quickly!

In 2006 Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) - the forerunner of NHS Suffolk - refused to pay the �2.5m cost of clearing a backlog of patients.

Ipswich Hospital had been so successful in reducing its waiting lists that it was able to meet demand for treatment almost straight away.

However, the quick treatment breached rules set by the PCT, which said patients must wait at least 122 days.

At the time a union representative said: “The PCT has been very unreasonable. It wanted the work done, we did it and it should pay for it.”