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Last Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006, 06:28 GMT
Heavy debt trust welcomes support
By James Clarke
BBC News, England

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust sign
The trust has cut about 300 jobs to save money
Bosses at one of the most heavily in-debt NHS trusts in England have welcomed a government move to give them special help with their finances.

The Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has overspent by 18.3m during 2005/2006, added to by previous debts.

Its chief executive, Gary Walker, had asked for help - saying "the trust cannot resolve this debt on its own".

The trust is one of 18 named this week to be appointed a "turnaround" team to help cut its debts.

Mr Walker said the trust - which runs Crawley Hospital and East Surrey Hospital in Redhill - was glad to have the extra support.

10m savings

In addition to overspending by 18.3m this year, the trust has also carried over a historic debt of 14.2m from the previous financial year - making a total deficit of more than 32m.

And managers are forecasting the total accumulated debt will reach 41.2m by the end of March, which it admits is the highest debt forecast of any trust in England.

At one stage they were expecting it to be as high as 68m.

The trust has already made 10m worth of savings, including cutting about 300 jobs.

The trust has been clear that it needs to live within its means
Gary Walker, chief executive

In August it was announced non-urgent operations were to be moved away from Crawley Hospital to save money, with 28 job vacancies in operating theatres not filled.

Anthony McKeever, who was chief executive at the time, said: "There came a point where I had to say if we can't recruit the staff and we can't afford to employ agency people then we can't run the operating lists."

Other measures being taken include cutting about 300 jobs through the removal of non-essential posts and not filling vacancies, reductions in the use of temporary staff and redeployment of staff elsewhere within the trust and in the NHS locally.

Between March and November 2005, during which time the trust changed its chief executive and finance director, the monthly overspend of the trust fell by 1.2m.

A new finance director took over at the trust in December

But it was still overspending by 2m a month and Mr Walker, who took over from Mr McKeever, told BBC News earlier in January: "The trust has consistently stated that it cannot resolve this debt on its own."

The "turnaround team" appointed to the trust will consist of financial and management specialists brought in to help slash the debt.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: "It's a very small minority of organisations who have got these deficits, that's why I'm taking decisive action by sending turnaround directors into the 18 organisations with the worst problems.

"My job is to make sure we're getting value for every pound of public money we're putting into the NHS."

Mr Walker said he welcomed the announcement.

"Over the next few weeks the trust management team will be working with the strategic health authority to ensure the right candidate is appointed to the position of turnaround director," he said.

"The trust has made progress over the last six months. A financial recovery plan is progressing and the monthly overspend is reducing.

"The trust has been clear that it needs to live within its means and recognises that it needs to break even monthly, as soon as possible - and within the next year."

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