Hospitals cash crisis forces bed closures

PUBLISHED: 12:08 19 January 2006 | UPDATED: 20:19 03 May 2010

MORE than 11 per cent of beds in West Herts hospitals have been taken out along with a raft of other measures in a bid to reduce a Trust's forecast overspend. David Law, chief executive of the West Herts Hospitals Trust, was one of several top managers ca

MORE than 11 per cent of beds in West Herts hospitals have been taken out along with a raft of other measures in a bid to reduce a Trust's forecast overspend. David Law, chief executive of the West Herts Hospitals Trust, was one of several top managers called to a special finance meeting of the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) on Tuesday to confirm what measures they were taking to rectify their financial plight. The health authority, which has its headquarters in St Albans, believes the total overspend by Trusts in Herts and Beds could reach £100 million this year. Many of the Trusts, particularly in the West Herts quadrant which takes in the Hospitals Trust and the St Albans and Harpenden Primary Care Trust, have gone well over the so-called control total which the health authority had agreed with the Department of Health. Hilary Tyler, the SHA's director of delivery, told Tuesday's meeting that they could be between £13 and £25 million worse than the control total by the end of the current financial year. The SHA had requested help from the Department of Health but nothing had been confirmed yet. But she stressed that the Trusts were still continuing to deliver national targets including the best treatment times in the country if cancer was suspected, 19 out of 20 people seen in accident and emergency within four hours and a reduction in the number of cases of the superbug MRSA. Mr Law told the meeting that deficit problems in the Trust went back to the early 1990s and they had been set the most demanding objective of saving £14.2 million in a year which was around seven per cent of the Trust's budget. They had brought in PriceWaterhouseCoopers at a cost of £300,000 to identify a raft of savings which the Trust could achieve and there were a number of areas which could be improved such as theatre usage, outpatients, prescribing, supplies and management costs. He added: "We have taken out something over 11 per cent of our bed capacity and reduced our reliance on agency staff. "We have also taken out a substantial number of management posts. Mr Law anticipated that £4 million could be released by moving acute admissions from Hemel Hempstead Hospital to Watford General and the Trust board was looking to make a decision about consolidating emergency care there at its meeting in March, he added. SHA chairman Ian White said that like the other Trusts with financial problems, he was concerned about the speed of improvement in West Herts. "It feels like a slow crank-up time," he commented. St Albans and Harpenden PCT is expected to come in at £2.5 million over its control total. Chief executive Jacqueline Clarke said they had also decided to invite PriceWaterhouseCoopers to send in a turnaround team. She anticipated that the PCT would not be in a position to expand services next year but intended to establish an urgent care centre at St Albans City Hospital which would provide enhanced diagnostic services in conjunction with the Minor Injuries Unit. SHA chief executive John de Braux said that in the last three years, the local health economy had received a 25 per cent increase in funding and was looking at savings of five per cent which should be achievable. But in Beds and Herts, the demand for services was growing faster than income and trusts had to accept that if they were to achieve key milestones, there would be no funding available for new services or developments, he added.

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I should probably have taken the hint! Walking out into the garden recently an unprecedented flock of thirty or more crows raucously greeted me from the treetops at the bottom of my garden. Cawing and croaking these big, black birds clung clumsily to the top most branches and twigs, jostling and flapping to stay balanced in a constant flurry of feathers. There is always something ominous about crows – they are after all carrion crows, the vultures of the bird world – always watching for scraps and weakness that might mean their next meal.

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