More MPs share health concerns

SUFFOLK Coastal MP John Gummer today branded the crisis facing the NHS in East Suffolk as "very serious" and revealed he has already held urgent talks with health secretary John Reid to discuss it.

SUFFOLK Coastal MP John Gummer today branded the crisis facing the NHS in East Suffolk as "very serious" and revealed he has already held urgent talks with health secretary John Reid to discuss it.

Mr Gummer said he feared the huge debt faced by Suffolk's health system would lead to cuts in services and has raised questions on the matter in the House of Commons.

He is demanding an urgent investigation into the situation to reassure his constituents, from who he is receiving increasing numbers of complaints and letters of concern about health care.

The Evening Star revealed the shocking state of Suffolk's health system last week when Ipswich Primary Care Trust boss Lilian Power resigned from her post.

The three primary care trusts in east Suffolk face a debt of more than £11m.

"The debts are a major concern and very worrying - as far as I can see the only way of paying back this money is by cutting my constituent's services. I cannot see that they can do it any other way," said Mr Gummer.

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"I spoke to John Reid about the matter only two days ago and will be seeking another meeting with him soon.

"I am pressing for a proper and serious assessment of the health services right across the board in Suffolk, in particular in east Suffolk, because I think we have a very serious situation here.

"We have a situation where three PCTs have now been put together but not amalgamated - and I am not suggesting they should be amalgamated - but we now seem to have the worst of both worlds.

"We have someone over the top of all of them and yet they are still running separately and it seems like bureacuracy gone mad."

Mr Gummer said it was "a most peculiar concept" to bring the PCTs together but keep them separate and could not see how it would save money.

He said the debts had partly arisen because although Suffolk was a fast-growing area money was being diverted away to northern towns identified as areas of need.

"I am sad to say it but I think there is a very sharp political bias in this - taking money away from Conservative areas to Labour areas - and I have never known that to happen before," he said.

"I don't make that accusation lightly but it's very clear from looking at the issue that the grants for Suffolk have been extremely low."

There were many financial issues and he highlighted examples of hospital staff raising money for young diabetes patients at Ipswich, and concern in Felixstowe over the lack of funds for social care to allow people to be sent home from hospital earlier.

One case he was currently dealing with involved a man caring for his wife who had had care cut and could now not get respite help.

"There are some disgraceful situations at the moment and we need to look at the health service in the county as a whole," he added.

On Monday The Evening Star posed a series of questions to the Strategic Health Authority, reflecting the concerns of Mr Gummer and many others.

We stated that the SHA declined to answer questions about Ipswich Hospital.

The SHA would like to point out that Ipswich Hospital asked if they could answer the questions as great detail was needed.

Also in our editorial we stated Christine Smart, chairman of the hospital board revealed nothing apart from the promise of no redundancies. In fact it was Peter Houghton, chief executive of the SHA who was responding to that question.

As concern over the state of Suffolk's health system continues to grow, another Suffolk MP has added his voice to the Evening Star's campaign.

Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, is meeting local health officials this week and has pledged to take his concerns to ministers if he is not satisfied with the outcome.

He said: "I think things are quite serious. As far as my constituents are concerned they are worried that, when we are told there is lots more money is available for the health system, they can't see what's happening because there are no obvious improvements to services.

"It is certainly causing some frustration and anxiety.

"It appears that right from the strategic level downwards we are reading stories about debt."

Mr Yeo said he has concerns about the way the financial system has been handled but is not sure it can be blamed solely on the Strategic Health Authority.

"It's difficult for the SHA to avoid taking some of the responsibility. That's where people expect things to get sorted out and if they are not then questions will be asked.

"From the outside it's not always very easy to judge. I think the blame probably has to be spread around a bit more than just the SHA.

"I think what Suffolk's people are entitled to know is a better explanation of exactly what has gone wrong."

Mr Yeo is meeting with Colin Muge, the chairman of the West Suffolk PCT, and Veronica Worrall, the chairman of the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust, to discuss the current financial situation this week.

He said: "I want to go through, in some detail, what their explanations are.

"I think the next stage will then be to go to ministers. If it's a problem that needs to be sorted at a higher level then that's the best way forward."