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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 10:21 GMT
Community hospitals 'face cuts'
Consultation
Many value local hospital units
Scores of community hospitals face closure or cuts as the NHS heads for a deficit of nearly 1bn this year, the Conservatives have claimed.

The party surveyed its MPs, and found evidence that 93 local community units were at risk - including 30 whose future was under serious threat.

It also found strategic health authorities in England are forecasting a debt of 997m in this financial year.

But the government denied community hospitals were under threat.

It said it was confident that the NHS would balance the books.

The Conservatives say their research has shown that NHS spending on administrators has risen by 1.3bn a year in real terms since 2000.

HOSPITALS UNDER SERIOUS THREAT
New Forest: Milford-on-Sea; Hythe; Fenwick Lyndhurst; Fordingbridge; Romsey
Suffolk: Walnuttree; Aldeburgh; Newmarket; Felixstowe; Hartismere Eye
Wiltshire: Westbury; Melksham; Malmesbury; Trowbridge; Warminster
Source: Conservative Party

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said even though the government had pumped extra money into the NHS, costs were still spiralling out of control.

He said: "There is a huge demand for community hospitals and the services they provide.

"While choice and vital services are taken away from those in need, the government wallows in denial.

"They have supplied more money to the NHS but lost control of costs.

"The increase in resources has not been matched with reform, and frontline services are suffering the consequences of this mismanagement."

A cross-party pressure group CHANT - Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together - is being officially launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Government response

A Department of Health spokesman denied community hospitals were under threat and dismissed the research on debt as "misleading".

He said: "Far from being under threat, NHS community hospital services have a bright future.

It's nonsensical to use the category 'non-medical workers' to calculate the number of managers, as this group includes staff like cleaners, porters and medical receptionists
Department of Health spokesman

"We are committed to building, rebuilding and refurbishing at least 50 community hospitals as part of a 100m investment."

He said similar grim warnings about large NHS deficits had been made last year - but the actual deficit had turned out to be just 0.4% of the total budget.

"We have no reason to believe that the NHS will not disprove this scaremongering again this year," he said.

He added that managers and senior managers accounted for less than three of every 100 NHS staff and only 2.8% of the total NHS workforce.

"The number of senior managers is falling, while clinical staff such as doctors and nurses are increasing," he said.

Further warnings

Gill Morgan, of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS budget deficit was likely to be bigger this year than in 2004/05.

She said this was in part to staff pay, recruitment drives and an overhaul of IT systems.

On community hospitals, she said: "They are by their nature local health services for local people and so it is right that any decisions about whether these services are required should be made locally by NHS organisations in partnership with their local communities."

The Tory survey comes after the Audit Commission warned last month that NHS wards, departments and even entire hospitals may be forced to close under the latest health reforms designed to extend patient choice.

The commission said the funding method, where money follows the patient, was destabilising the NHS and fuelling the current financial crisis.

A British Medical Association report released in September found three-quarters of NHS trusts were facing budget shortfalls.

The BMA said this could lead to cuts in services, and recruitment freezes.


SEE ALSO:
340m deficit predicted for NHS
03 Mar 05 |  Health


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