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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Hospitals' 44m overspend
Hospital ward
An inquiry has been launched into why two Bristol hospitals have debts of 44.3m.

Southmead and Frenchay are in debt after overspends in the last year.

The Trust proposes to pay off the 44.3m gradually, over the next five years.

And action is aready being taken to ensure next year's deficit does not reach similar figures.

The increased monies have failed to address the fundamental under-funding of the health community
Russell Clease
Joint trades union

The overspend is largely due to trying to meet government targets - with the trust spending 10m last year buying in private nurses to clear waiting lists.

Consultants at the North Bristol NHS Trust (NBNHST) have been told they might have to cut back.

This may mean patients in the city could face a longer wait for routine operations.

But Sonia Mills, chief executive of the NBNHST, said: "You cannot turn around this sort of figure in one year by making cuts in services.

"We are committed to reducing waiting times, and we have plans to create the capacity to do this."

Full inquiry

In a statement from the joint trade unions for the NBNHST, chairman Russell Clease said the problems are a symptom of chronic under-funding of the Avon Health Community.

"Over the last five years, more financial resources have been allocated to the region but these have been largely ring-fenced and targeted towards certain initiatives.

Although these initiatives are welcomed, the increased monies have failed to address the fundamental under-funding of the health community."

The Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Strategic Health Authority has called for a full inquiry into the NBNHST after it announced the end-of-year deficit.

Rapid report

An authority spokesman said recent financial reports from the trust were causing "deepening concern" for the authority.

In November an 11.6m overspend was predicted, he said.

But he said it became clear in February that the deficit for 2002/03 would be substantially higher than had been previously reported.

The authority will appoint external consultants to undertake an immediate review and to make a rapid report back to the authority by the end of May.

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "Sadly a deficit of this nature is an increasingly common occurrence across the NHS.

"Hospitals are forced to spend money they don't have simply to meet central government targets, often running up large bills for agency nurses.

"Trusts therefore begin each year with a negative balance, which undermines their finances for the year ahead.

"The result is a bureaucratic paperchase, rather than a patient focused service."

The BBC's Jon Kay
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