Blow for hospital's foundation trust bid

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn has learned its bid to break free from the region's cash strapped health system by becoming a self governing foundation trust by April next year is in trouble because of its remaining debt.

By ELAINE MASLIN

The latest hospital in East Anglia hoping to become a foundation trust has seen its bid founder.

Last week the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn learned its bid to break free from the region's cash-strapped health system by becoming a self-governing foundation trust by April next year was in trouble because of its remaining debt.

Although it has met all its performance targets, and even made a surplus this year, it still needs to find £5.5m to pay off historic debts in order to make a bid, it has been told.

The change would give the hospital the opportunity to become self- governing, with more control over its own affairs, increased scope to develop services and greater financial freedom.

Top-level talks have been held this week to rescue the bid for next year, instead of this year as hoped, and find ways of paying off the debt faster.

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Chief executive Ruth May said: "We have the full support of the East of England Strategic Health Authority for our foundation trust application.

"That is because we've met our clinical access targets, comply with Healthcare Commission standards and delivered a financial surplus last year."

However the problem, she said, was that the trust would not be able to repay its remaining debt until March 2009, exactly a year after the time limit for repaying debts.

She said: "The board and the SHA are supporting us in our bid to join Wave 8 and therefore be a Foundation Trust in July 2008. We will be a foundation trust."

Health officials at the hospital had been aware there might be a problem with its bid and did not start a three- month consultation with the public in July on foundation Status, as it had planned to.

A spokesman for the hospital said the Department of Health had been inundated with applications from hospitals for foundation status.

But he added: "We are not a struggling hospital any more. We have made huge inroads into our deficit, we are now a top-performing hospital.

"The problem is making an application when we still have a deficit. But we are financially viable and we break even now."

He said the hospital was still recruiting people to become members of the new trust to help form it when a bid is submitted. It is hoped there would be more than 2,500 members and 30 governors who would then appoint the trust's bosses.

It had hoped to make the bid by October and become a foundation hospital in April 2008.

A spokesperson for the strategic health authority said: "We fully support the application of the QEH for foundation trust status. "The delay in progression to foundation trust status is unfortunate and we are working closely with the trust and the Department of Health to find a way forward."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The Department of Health has not supported the Queen Elizabeth Hospital NHS Trust to be part of the foundation trust applications process at the current time - principally for financial reasons in relation to their historic debt. The precise reasons will be understood by both the trust and SHA."

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds has finally been given the green light to apply this year for foundation status. It applied in 2005 but was knocked back because of its finances.

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