Health trusts aim to clear £33m of debts

RICHARD BATSON Doomed local health trusts are striving to wipe £33m worth of debts off their balance sheets before they are replaced in the autumn.


Doomed local health trusts are striving to wipe £33m worth of debts off their balance sheets before they are replaced in the autumn.

Health chiefs are joining forces in their last few months before extinction to take a united approach to the financial problems.

They have long faced a tough task of trying to balance the books, to keep financial mandarins happy, while protecting patient services and meeting government targets.

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But as five primary care trusts move towards becoming one in October the task has become more urgent - with officers under pressure not to hand over any debts go the new authority.

Last week, the North Norfolk Primary Care Trust heard its forecast deficit had worsened from £9m to £12m - mainly due to picking up the tab for more treatments than expected.

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It was good news for patients getting seen by doctors, but bad news for the board which has a duty not to make a loss.

Acting financial director John Ingham said: "Patients are getting treated but it impacts on affordability."

Elsewhere in the county the debts are: £10.5m in south Norfolk; £8.7m in Broadland; £1.3m in Norwich; and £807,000 in west Norfolk.

Chief executive Diana Clarke said trusts were getting together to tackle the combined debts with a recovery plan on a Norfolk-wide basis as it headed towards a county authority.

She stressed her trust had made major improvements in a lot of areas, such as cancer treatment, and had to meet treatment targets laid down by the government. But it also had to balance the books, at a time when they were facing increased costs through government-led schemes such as new consulting and GP contracts and redesigning services under the Agenda for Change.

Mr Ingham said some of its debts were from problems the trust had inherited such as the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital PFI deal, and a countywide pooled fund for dealing with learning difficulties.

However an urgent report had been sanctioned to look into why the forecasts had got it wrong in the north Norfolk trust.

Mrs Clarke said it would not be until after that report was finished, and an action plan drawn up, that they would know the impact on services.

Although the trusts officially wind up on October 1, they will have until the end of the financial year to clear their debts.

A new chief executive and chairman of the Norfolk-wide trust - covering the whole county bar a separate Yarmouth and Waveney area - are now being sought and should be announced early in August.

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