Resignations rock Suffolk health service

NEW cracks today appeared in the management of Suffolk's health service after two directors quit their posts in a row over Ipswich Hospital's spending.

NEW cracks today appeared in the management of Suffolk's health service after two directors quit their posts in a row over Ipswich Hospital's spending.

The high profile resignations come at a time when the future of one of the county's hospitals is under major threat.

Felixstowe General is facing the axe as part of desperate moves to save £18million by next Tuesday.

The move has provoked outrage and coincides with Elizabeth Aldous and Stephanie Thew walking out as non-executive directors of Central Suffolk Primary Care Trust in bust-up over cash.

It is the latest in a series of departures to have to have rocked the region's health service.

Mrs Aldous and Mrs Thew resigned their posts after claiming they were not allowed to chase up a debt owed to the trust by the hospital.

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Primary care trusts give the hospital money to treat patients from their area, but the pair say it was not clear what Central Suffolk PCT's money was being spent on. They believe the hospital now owes the trust money.

The pair, both members of the trust's audit committee, which keeps a check on spending, say senior members of the PCT board would not support them in chasing up outstanding payments.

They say they had no plans to go to the press about the dispute but when approached by The Star issued a joint statement to explain what had happened.

Their statement said: "Our concern has always been that significant funds - up to £1.7m - had been paid from PCT funds which had not been shown to have been spent upon the patients who live in the Central Suffolk area.

"We have always considered and continue to believe that our responsibility as Audit Committee members was to probe into this issue until there was a satisfactory outcome for the patients in our area. That did not happen. We do not consider that an issue such as this should have been disregarded for the sake of expediency."

Initially Mrs Thew and Mrs Aldous only wanted to resign from the audit committee but Pat Potter, acting chairman of the board, would not accept their resignation and asked them to withdraw their decision.

Mrs Thew and Mrs Aldous said: "In view of the fact our resignation from the Audit Committee was not accepted, very regretfully we then also submitted our resignation from the board."

Fellow audit committee member and non-executive director, Martyn Hanlon, also resigned from the PCT last month to take up a position on the board of a commercial private sector company. He declined to comment on the matter.

However, Mrs Potter said she was confident that there was no debt owed to the PCT by the hospital.

She said the concerns of Mrs Thew and Mrs Aldous had been thoroughly investigated by the audit commission and the East Suffolk PCT's own joint audit commitee who found no wrong-doing.

She said: "The concerns of the Audit Committee members focused on payment for treatment and care provided by The Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust. Investigations have shown that care was provided and have highlighted how we can work together to improve how we commission health care and gather information.

"The Board of Central Suffolk PCT recognise that members of the Central Suffolk Audit Committee acted with integrity in pursuing this matter, but believe this issue is now resolved. The Norfolk Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority support our decision in this matter."

She added that three new non-executive directors are due to be appointed soon.

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said: "This issue has been resolved and we have a strong working relationship with Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts."

The last meeting of the board of Central Suffolk PCT was due to take place last Wednesday but has been postponed until July 19.

TODAY'S departures are the latest in a string of top-level resignations from health trusts in the region in what is a time of rapid change for the NHS.

The structure of the health service is currently under much scrutiny.

It looks likely within the next year Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities could merge to form larger organisations, with the aim of streamlining the health service and reducing bureaucracy.

But it is a move which many would argue is a step back towards the old District Health Authority system

However, this change will be set against a backdrop of huge debts and a series of recovery programmes which bosses admit could lead to cuts in services.

Mental health bosses have already admitted they will be forced to make cuts in the coming months and the uncertainty over the future of the Felixstowe General is another sign of the changes that could be on the cards.

Contending with the huge debts - thought to stand at around £18m at the end of the 2004/5 financial year - and deciding where savings can be made means trusts must work closely together. But this has not always been easy when the hospital, PCTs and SHAs sometimes have conflicting ideas of what is best.

The first high-profile resignation came in October 2004 when Lilian Power, then chairman of the Ipswich Primary Care Trust, left her role alleging bullying of the PCTs by the Strategic Health Authority.

Since then a succession of chairman and directors have left their roles, mostly to concentrate on their work in other areas of the NHS or private sector companies.

Stewart Francis, chairman of the Strategic Health Authority resigned in December 2004, followed by SHA chief executive Peter Houghton in April this year.

In May 2005, SHA finance director Paul Kemp became the last of "the big three" to leave his post at the SHA.

Brian Parrot, chairman of Central Suffolk PCT, also quit in January.

Mr Houghton and Mr Kemp are to be replaced by the chief executive and finance director of Trent SHA in the east Midlands. Both men will continue to work for Trent SHA - which has led to speculation that mergers of SHAs could be likely in the not too distant future.

Plans are already being made to merge the three east Suffolk PCTs into one. They currently have three separate boards but only one chief executive, Carole Taylor-Brown, who was brought in to try and oversee a stringent financial recovery programme.

NHS funding: How it works

The Department of Health allocates money to each of the Strategic Health Authorities.

Strategic Health Authorities then distribute this to each of the PCTs and mental health trusts in their area.

Primary care trusts use their money to fund 'primary' services in the community, such as GPs, but they also have an amount they can use to buy or commission services from the hospitals in their area. They give the hospitals an amount based on how many people from their area (e.g Central Suffolk) will need treatment in the hospital.

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