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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 January 2006, 11:54 GMT
East: NHS crisis?
Deborah McGurran
Deborah McGurran
Political Editor BBC East

Woman and Doctor
Primary care trusts commission 80% of NHS services

The crisis deepens for National Health Trusts. Across the East region they are beginning to implement a severe programme of cuts as they struggle to balance their books.

A report published by Unison confirmed what we revealed back in September that the NHS in the East is heading for a multi million pound deficit.

Now the cuts, believed to be 211m, are beginning to bite.

It is expected that in total 458 hospital beds will go - plus a further seven wards. 25 smaller community hospitals will be affected and more than 800 jobs will be lost, including nurses.

Since November 2005 we have seen waves of protest over plans by the NHS in Suffolk to exclude obese people from some types of surgery.

The ban affects patients in East Suffolk and includes treatment for hip and knee replacement. Then the East Suffolk Primary Care Trust set a minimum four month wait for routine surgery.

Last week Northampton Primary Care Trust followed suit and announced people waiting for non-urgent surgery, like hip operations, could have to wait up to six months for their operations.

The health care trust there has to make savings of 3m by the end of March 2006.

200 jobs are under threat at St Clements Hospital in Ipswich as part of a modernisation of the Suffolk mental health services.

Millions of pounds need to be saved by the county.

It has been confirmed 34 beds are to go at Ipswich Hospital and managers there have asked every member of staff to find ways of saving 2000 each a year.

The Hospital Trust needs to claw back 7m in efficiency savings and repay a debt of 4.5m. Officials admit they are facing an extreme challenge.

And campaigners are trying to secure the future of Aldeburgh Hospital in Suffolk by buying it themselves!

A local GP believes a community buy out with shareholders is the way ahead. The local primary care trust there has immense debts of 20m.

This week marked the end of the public consultation into the budget cut proposals for Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trusts.

They need to slash 3m from mental health services over the next three years.

The trusts are forecast to have run up a 17.8m deficit by the end of March 2006.

Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge expects to lose a ward and 16 inpatient beds are to go at Newmarket Hospital.

Cambridge MP David Howarth, said: "We are facing cuts of 14% in mental health funding.

"We are facing cuts across the board - for older people, through to services such as day centres, and the Young People's Service.

"What is happening here in Cambridgeshire is disgraceful. These cuts are dangerous. Mental health is a matter of life and death.

"The Secretary of State told me that there is a deliberate policy to take funding away from Cambridgeshire."

A letter from 27 consultant psychiatrists warned of an increased risk of suicides and violence if the cuts are made.

A letter was sent to all employees of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust demanding that they do not contact the media to comment on "contentious issues".

David Howarth has launched a furious attack on mental health chiefs who have tried to "gag" staff.

Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire PCTs say they have already significantly cut the size of their forecast deficit.

The predicted 2005/6 shortfall has been reduced from 42 million to 17.8 million.

However, this still does not meet the 15 million target set by the Strategic Health Authority.

Yet overall the NHS is better funded than ever.

Average annual increases have been "7.4% each year since 2002" amounting to "43% by 2008

So why is this happening?

The government has told health managers that they must stop carrying deficits over year on year.

They must "balance the books" by March 2007.

Health Trusts are complaining that the problem is not of their making.

They blame a persistent failure by government to fully fund its health initiatives and reforms combined with the Department of Health's command that they balance the book and repay their debts within the two years.

The government says the NHS has never been better funded and financial problems affect only some health providers and hospitals.

The looming cash crisis comes as health managers wrestle with changes to consultant and GP contracts and face another phase of reorganisation.

The Government wants to slim down the number of trusts and cut the number of chief executives and management needed to run the NHS as part of an efficiency drive just four years after instigating the current health structures.

The Politics Show

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Politics Show, Sunday 22 January 2006 at Noon.

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SEE ALSO:
Hewitt slams NHS trust overspend
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