£93m boost for Norfolk's NHS

CHRIS BISHOP Norfolk's health services will get a £90m-plus shot in the arm and half the money will be spent on improving front-line care, the new head of East Anglia's NHS revealed yesterday.

CHRIS BISHOP

Norfolk's health services are set for a £93m shot in the arm and half the money will be spent on improving frontline care, the EDP can reveal today.

Neil McKay, chief executive of the East of England Strategic Health Authority, predicted yesterday that Norfolk's cash-strapped health services would be back in the black by the end of March - and that Norfolk Primary Care Trust would get the extra £93m on top of its £823m budget this year.

The cash will help ease the £50m debt inherited by the county PCT when it took over responsibility for commissioning NHS services from six district bodies last October.

But Mr McKay said that about £45m would be set aside for cutting waiting lists in the county's hospitals and clinics and reducing the number of patients hit by hospital-acquired infections, or "superbugs", like MRSA.

Mr McKay also quashed fears that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's A&E unit at King's Lynn might be scaled down or closed under plans to create "regional trauma centres".

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He also hinted that the QEH might succeed in its bid for foundation status - which would give the hospital greater freedom to manage its own affairs and finances.

Mr McKay spoke to the EDP on a visit to the QEH to meet its chief executive Ruth May and discuss the progress of its financial recovery plan. The hospital has saved £6m of the £7m it needs this financial year and is on target to pay off a debt which at one point totalled £11m.

"The Norfolk PCT faces some significant financial challenges," said Mr McKay. "We've allowed them an overdraft of £23m and we have been working very closely to make sure that they get into financial balance and that by the end of March all of Norfolk will be in financial balance.

"They're getting significant new money next year. The whole NHS is getting 11pc-12pc, which means roughly £90m for Norfolk.

"Roughly half of that will have to go to the N&N, pay rises and inflation. That would leave £45m for improvements in the NHS and tackling debt."

Mr McKay said priorities would be:

reducing the number of cases of MRSA;

cutting waiting lists; and

implementing the book-and- choose system whereby GPs could book hospital appointments online for patients from their surgeries.

He said the NHS would undergo a sea-change, with increasing numbers of patients treated at home or their GPs' surgeries.

"Hospitals typically treat patients who needn't be treated in hospital," he said. "They could be seen by their GPs in their surgeries.

"In this day and age what we need is to get care for people moved closer to people's homes so we're saying to the hospital trusts and the PCTs show us your plans for doing more work out of hospitals."

Mr McKay said plans for new regional emergency centres, which will lead to the closure of A&E departments in some parts of the country, would not threaten the QEH's.

"The shape of hospitals is changing and will continue to change," he said. "This hospital will still need to have an A&E.

"There's always going to be a need for local emergency services. What we'll see is more complex cases moving to regional centres.

"What you get is a trade-off between access and clinical outcome. If you're in an accident or you have a heart attack an ambulance attends and they work to stabilise you and then take you to A&E. The first response is the crucial thing."

Mr McKay discussed the QEH's bid to become a foundation hospital with Ruth May. As well as expanding its role as a teaching hospital, it would mean the hospital gaining greater autonomy over decision-making and strategic planning and allow the West Norfolk and Fenland communities it serves to become more involved with its running.

He said: "The way the trust is improving its financial position and achieving other objectives augurs well for a successful application."

Mr McKay said the move would mean greater public involvement, as the regulations governing foundation hospitals require members of the public to become involved in key decisions such as senior appointments and how the hospital should develop its services.

The hospital's trust board begins the year-long application process next month. A business plan will go out to consultation in July.

Norfolk Primary Care Trust is currently reviewing all its services, including the future of nine cottage hospitals and community services including health visitors and community nursing. A public consultation paper setting out proposals for the future of intermediate care in Norfolk will be published next month.