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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 20:01 GMT
Hewitt slams NHS trust overspend
Patricia Hewitt
Patricia Hewitt said the trust must get its spending under control
The health secretary has criticised an NHS trust which has stopped offering patients the heart treatment procedure which Tony Blair underwent last year.

Cardiac ablation therapy to control an irregular heartbeat will no longer be available to most patients at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford.

The decision was blamed on a lack of funding by hospital chiefs.

But Patricia Hewitt said: "Gordon Brown has written a very, very big cheque for the NHS. But it is not a blank cheque."

Ms Hewitt denied that waiting list targets had forced the hospital to stop the routine operation and blamed its bosses for failing to manage their budget effectively.

'Hugely increased budgets'

Ms Hewitt said: "Unfortunately the NHS in Oxford - including the Radcliffe - has been overspending on its budget despite the fact that they have got more money than they have ever had before.

A wire catheter is fed in through a vein in the groin, up to the heart
Electrical sensors at the tip of the catheter allow the surgeon to find the short circuit
The catheter then delivers electrical pulses which destroy - ablate - the short circuit

"They are having to deal with that situation because clearly we cannot have a position where Oxford or a few other areas of the country are overspending on these hugely increased budgets.

"I am proud of the fact that we have set a target that nobody should be waiting for an operation or a hospital treatment for more than six months."

Up to 100 patients are thought to have been affected by the decision to cut the procedure.

The therapy - which can free patients from feeling dizzy and tired - uses radio frequency energy to correct abnormal heart rhythms.

'Clinical priority'

Melanie Proudfoot, for the Oxford Radcliffe Trust, said: "The Oxfordshire NHS Priorities Forum, which considers the clinical and cost-effectiveness of treatments, has reviewed cardiac ablation as a treatment and has issued new guidelines.

This year, the trust was on course to break even, were it not for the contribution it is making to tackle the Oxfordshire funding gap
Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust spokesman

"This treatment continues to be available for those patients who are a clinical priority and in greatest need of this operation."

Another spokesman stressed the decision was not a unilateral one by the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust.

He said: "The 15m deficit reported in some media for the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals is in fact for the Oxfordshire NHS as a whole.

"In the last three years the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals has implemented a wide range of measures to reduce its operating costs, successfully bringing them down from 8% above to 6% below the national average for acute hospitals.

"This year the Trust was on course to break even were it not for the contribution it is making to tackle the Oxfordshire funding gap."

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley criticised Ms Hewitt's bid to "shirk responsibility" for the situation.

"It's the government's responsibility to ensure that the reforms are introduced in a way that doesn't lead to services being cut back.

'Effective treatment'

"It is not good enough for Patricia Hewitt simply to shirk responsibility and say it is a matter for local authorities," he said.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: "The thing I object to the most is that they've pretended that it's a matter of effectiveness, or cost-effectiveness - that is a deceit.

"Patients were told by their consultants this was what they needed, and then they get a letter from managers implying that it's not an effective treatment.

"It is an effective treatment, and they should be entitled to it because the prime minister got it."

Heart treatment cut at hospital
28 Dec 05 |  Oxfordshire
Blair heart treatment 'successful'
01 Oct 04 |  UK Politics

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