Ipswich: Hospital boss vows trust will make savings after racking up �3.5million debts in two months

IPSWICH: Health bosses today vowed not to let finances spiral deep into the red again after it emerged Ipswich Hospital racked up �3.5million of debt in just two months.

The hospital’s chief executive Andrew Reed said a comprehensive savings plan was in place which he hopes will see the trust achieve a surplus of �2.1m by the end of this financial year.

But he admitted the trust is facing a “big financial challenge” as it attempts to make the four per cent efficiency savings expected of all hospitals in the country this year.

He said: “We expected to be in debt at this point in the year, by about �2.5m. So although it is bad, the picture is not as bad as it seems.

“We are still confident of achieving a surplus of �2.1m by the end of the year.”

Since the start of the financial year in April, Ipswich Hospital has been hit by several factors – most notably the number of patients re-admitted within 30 days of being discharged after planned surgery, and a rising bill to pay locum doctors.

These have seen its finances tumble into negative figures by the end of May.

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The number of those patients re-admitted within the 30-day period – stipulated by national guidelines – totalled 4,455 last year.

As the hospital receives no payment for their care from the primary care trust, this is expected to cost the hospital an estimated �3m in the coming year.

Mr Reed said: “Obviously, the government is concerned patients may be discharged too soon. We are wary of that.

“On occasion, for a variety of reasons, a patient may be discharged too early, but we risk assess patients before discharge.

“Some patients are re-admitted for completely different reasons – they may have had a hip replacement and then have a heart problem.”

He said that although the hospital will always aim to reduce bed numbers and the length of stay, a culture of freeing up beds for new admissions was not an issue at the Heath Road site.

Another factor hitting the hospital’s bank balance is a rising bill to pay locum doctors at all levels.

With about four senior consultants on long-term sick leave in the last 12 months, the trust has been forced to shell out for temporary replacements – a measure which, although “unfortunate”, is “completely unavoidable”, said Mr Reed.

Locums have also been appointed to fill vacancies such as stroke consultants and specialists in the care of the elderly due to a shortage of specialists across the country.

He said: “Every hospital is finding it hard to recruit in these areas because there are simply not enough people qualified to go round.

“At junior doctor level, a change in recruitment, which used to be done regionally, means it is now done on a national basis and is making it increasingly harder for us to recruit.”

As a result, Mr Reed said junior locums often have had to be recruited at short notice, resulting in the hospital paying premium rates.

The �3.5m debt does not take account of the historic debt the trust has faced ever since it reached crisis point when it slipped �18m into the red in 2005/06.

Since then, Mr Reed said yearly surpluses have driven that figure down to around �3.7m.

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