Plea to health boss as more debts emerge

THINK of the people of Britain Mr Johnson.That is the plea from The Evening Star today on behalf of NHS trusts everywhere after yet more crippling debt figures were revealed.

THINK of the people of Britain Mr Johnson.

That is the plea from The Evening Star today on behalf of NHS trusts everywhere after yet more crippling debt figures were revealed.

It has been revealed that Ipswich Hospital is paying back a £23.4million loan to the government issued earlier this year - part of a massive £777.9m loan to trusts across the UK - that with interest will add more than £30m of repayments to its already multi-million pound debts.

It follows an announcement from the government last week that it will underspend in the NHS by a record £1.8billion this financial year.

Today the Star demands to know why hospitals like Ipswich, which are being forced to cut jobs and beds because of debts, are still having to struggle to repay the loans when the government's kitty is overflowing.

The loans had to be taken out to keep the hospital running while measures were put in place to pay off the £17.3m debts.

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Today, Ipswich Hospital's chief executive Andrew Reed said: “We applied for and received a £23.4m loan in March.

“The loan is costing us £1m a year which we have to pay back as well, and we have a plan to pay it back over seven years.

“Away from this loan, we are making a surplus each month with our income and expenditure and we expect to be free of our historic £17.3m debt by 2009.

“The surplus we are making will then allow us to pay off the loan.

“We will not need another loan in March next year because we are now making a surplus.”

Finance papers due to be presented to hospital directors today show it has made £2.3m surplus to date this financial year to pay off part of the £17.3m.

It was planning to make £10m by April, but in September revised the figure to £5m.

Ipswich Hospital is one of 56 trusts to get an NHS loan this year.

The biggest borrower was the North Bristol NHS Trust which was loaned £52m. West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds borrowed £2m.

Last week the Star and the hospital's patient and public involvement forum, an independent body set up to monitor the hospital, called to the government in a bid to free Suffolk's health services from its cash-crisis.

We asked for the underspent money to be injected into the county's ailing health services - with Suffolk Primary Care Trust owing nearly £36m alongside Ipswich's Hospital's problems.

The Department of Health did not return the Star's request for a comment.

Last week, NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the £1.8b was out in the communities with primary care trusts and it was up to them to decide how to use it.

N Should the £1.8billion national NHS underspend be used to help troubled hospitals like Ipswich? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

CHRIS MOLE panel

IPSWICH MP Chris Mole said it was not simple for the Department of Health to use its surplus to write off debts.

He said: "That includes money that will have been saved by trusts around the country, possibly for specific projects, and could not just be transferred to trusts who are dealing with debts.

"I am very encouraged to hear that the management are now running a surplus on a day-to-day basis which is a great improvement.

"There has to be some financial discipline in how public money is spent and it seems as if the management have not got to grips with the problem.

"But if they have any issues they would like to discuss with Alan Johnson or any other health minister I should be delighted to set up a meeting."

IPSWICH Hospital has been rocked by the cuts installed to help claw back what once stood at a £24.1million debt.

More than a year of discontent has reigned among some staff as they were told of job, bed and service cuts.

In May the Star revealed how a reshuffle of medical secretaries left the hospital with a backlog of correspondence, patients' notes going missing, staff being downgraded and low staff morale.

Ninety-five of the 134 medical secretaries were given new roles as secretaries, two people asked for voluntary redundancy, four resigned and two people took other posts.

In December last year 16 specialist nurse jobs were lost, but the nurses were kept on elsewhere in the hospital.

It had been announced that more than 30 nurses were to be axed but, following the Star's Save our Angels campaign, no one was made redundant.

In September last year hospital bosses approved plans to axe 71 beds, 357 jobs and four operating theatres to help balance the debt.

Many of the beds closing are based in the northern end of the hospital, which is the oldest part of the building.

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