Patient care should come first

HEALTH care cash which should be invested in more out-of-hours doctors is instead being spent on a car park and spin, it has been claimed.

Naomi Gornall

HEALTH care cash which should be invested in more out-of-hours doctors is instead being spent on a car park and spin, it has been claimed.

NHS Suffolk has been accused of not making patients a priority after it was revealed that there is unlikely to be more money spent on GPs for the out-of-hours service yet more than �500,000 is being spent on a farm to be turned into a staff car park at the organisation's headquarters and up to �40,000 a year on a replacement communications manager post.

It emerged last week that, at times during the night, only two GPs can be on call for the area NHS Suffolk covers - a population of 600,000.

NHS Suffolk claims that when the new provider, Harmoni HS Ltd, takes over the service from Take Care Now in April, the “coverage” will improve with more bases across the region, and that more money will be spent on clinicians, such as nurse practitioners and pharmacists but not necessarily GPs.

It has also emerged that �6million is spent on the out-of-hours service - about �10 per head for the people of Suffolk.

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Dr Dan Poulter, a hospital doctor and the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for central Suffolk and north Ipswich, said: “A lot of money is being spent by trusts on public relations and communications whereas that money should be spent on frontline services because patient care and patient safety always has to come first.

“Too often the people making decisions do not have experience of frontline care. You have to put patient care first -that is what health care is all about.”

Peter Mellor, health campaigner, said: “NHS Suffolk does try but its priorities are very heavily weighted towards doing what it's told and keeping its finances in order. The only reason they are given that money is to spend it on health care.”

Ben Gummer, prospective parliamentary candidate for Ipswich, added: “Whoever wins the next election, we know it is going to be a tough funding settlement for Suffolk in the next few years so the PCT should be building up reserves to spend on the frontline, not wasting it on spin doctors and car parks.”

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said: “NHS Suffolk's priority is keeping patients safe. Our local out-of-hours service will continue to offer a safe and efficient service to patients, with improvements to the services in our contract with the new provider Harmoni HS. Our management costs are among the lowest in the region. In 2009 the independent Audit Commission identified NHS Suffolk as the best performing primary care trust in the East of England for the best use of resources and financial management.

“Offering accurate, timely health information to local residents is a vital part of helping people to get the best health care. Replacing a member of our communications team who has left will enable us to continue doing that efficiently. The proposed car park at Paper Mill Farm is by far the most cost-effective way to enable the public, staff and visitors to easily access our offices, which are a base for serving the whole county.“