Mental health book balancing pays off

WORKING with more than 70 less staff has enabled mental health workers in Suffolk to save £1.2million, it was announced today.

WORKING with more than 70 less staff has enabled mental health workers in Suffolk to save £1.2million, it was announced today.

The finances for the Suffolk Mental Health Trust have been revealed in full as the end of the financial year approaches and the spotlight falls on the under scrutiny health services in the county.

Despite the crippling financial restraints from the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA), the mental health partnership has ended in the black as the 2006/07 year draws to a close.

Speaking to The Star, the trust's director of finance Mark Madden said: “The financial climate meant it's been a difficult and pressured year for staff. We are very pleased with what we have achieved as there's been a huge amount of modernisation against a backdrop of very difficult financial restraints.”

The trust has managed to make £1.2million in 2006/07, meeting the SHA's target. And its prediction for the coming year is that it will make £686,000, less than this year because of spending on modernisation projects.

This year's savings are largely down to holding back on filling jobs. More than 70 positions are currently not filled.

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Mr Madden said: “We were set a target by the SHA to achieve a £1.2m surplus and we will achieve that, we are predicting we will do slightly better.

“The way we have made savings is by not filling vacancies. Not in all cases, but vacancies now go through an approval process where we scrutinise them and ones which aren't filled aren't removed altogether but not filled that time round.

“The numbers vary across the trust and over the past year in peaks and troughs but we are holding in excess of 70 vacancies at the moment.

“It puts pressure on our services and the managers have done exceptionally well.”

Next year the SHA target for the trust is to break even but a £686,000 surplus is expected. It relies on receiving £1.2m back from the SHA having saved it this time round. It also relies on getting approval for modernising projects.

Mr Madden said: “One of the major risks in hitting next year's budget is trying to hit the Government target to ensure all learning disability clients are in residential care and not health campuses by 2010. It will be a major scale project to transfer them.”

Sally Cook, spokesman for the Suffolk Mental Health patient and public involvement forum, said: “The biggest issue with finance for us is that mental health services have always been the Cinderella, getting less money than other organisations.”

The Evening Star revealed last week that health services in the east of England has a collective debt of £169m.

n Are you a mental health service user in Suffolk? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail