Latest: Health regulator Monitor “concerned” about N&N and mental health trust
PUBLISHED: 11:14 04 December 2014 | UPDATED: 16:53 04 December 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2009
Health regulator Monitor will launch probes into two Norfolk health trusts today over missed targets and weak finances.
The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) will be investigated for repeatedly missing three targets - A&E waiting times, cancer treatment and starting treatments within 18 weeks of referral by a GP, the EDP can reveal.
Mental health provider, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), will be probed for going deep into the red.
The N&N – the region’s biggest hospital - has put these missed targets down to a huge increase in demand and the delays in discharging patients.
Monitor said on Thursday morning it was “concerned” that the problems could “indicate underlying problems in the way each trust is being run”.
Laura Mills, deputy regional director at Monitor, said: “Some patients are waiting too long for treatment at the N&N and this has given Monitor cause for concern.
“Our investigation will establish what further action, if any, is needed to improve services for patients.”
The hospital is taking steps to meet targets and said its problems were caused by huge demand and delays in discharging patients.
“It is apparent that the twin issues of increased emergency demand and record levels of delayed discharges from hospital are ones that affect the healthcare system as a whole,” N&N chief executive Anna Dugdale said. “We share Monitor’s concern about the pressures that these are placing on the hospital and its staff.”
The NSFT, meanwhile, will be probed over whether it has breached its licence by racking up a deficit of close to £2 million already in this financial year.
The trust is under severe financial pressure and made cuts of almost £15m from its budget of around £200m last year.
It was aiming to break even in 2014/15, but its deficit could rise to more than £4m by the end of the financial year in March 2015.
The overspend is mainly down to the cost of hiring agency staff and sending patients out of Norfolk and Suffolk for treatment.
It spent £16.3m on temporary staffing costs during 2013/14, but is looking to reduce that figure.
The trust is also cutting the number of patients it sends outside of the two counties.
Mrs Mills said: “We are taking a closer look at NSFT to understand the way the Board works and why the trust is making such a big loss.
“The aim of the investigation is to get to the bottom of these issues and to understand whether or not we need to step in.”
No decision has yet been made on whether further regulatory action will be taken at either trust.
NSFT chief executive Michael Scott has long argued for more money for mental health services.
“There are particular funding problems facing us in mental health and we welcome Monitor’s review,” he said.
“In the interests of our service users and staff, we are determined to see a fairer deal for mental health and we’re working to improve the culture and leadership of the trust.”
Care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb welcomed the probe and said the N&N remained a “very good” hospital.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: “It’s early days so it’s not right to point any fingers until the reviews can establish facts and recommendations.
“We have all seen how the N&N is under pressure and I hope that this review provides sensible suggestions as to how the hospital can be best supported to treat patients. I will continue to speak regularly to hospital management to do that.”
But Labour’s Norwich candidates blamed the government for missed targets.
“People here need to know they can rely on the local A&E. But it’s being placed under intolerably pressure by this government. Ministers abolished guaranteed GP appointments and undermined social care and the hospital is struggling to cope,” Jess Asato, prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich North said.
“David Cameron has trapped A&Es in a downward spiral while he wasted £3 billion on a reckless reorganisation.
“The hospital has failed to meet the waiting time target since May. This should have been ringing alarm bells in the Department of Health months ago but the truth is Ministers failed to listen and act on local concerns.
“What’s also shocking is that a third of cancer patients are waiting more than two months to start treatment. These are delays that could potentially put lives at risk – when it comes to cancer, speed is everything”.
Clive Lewis, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich South, said last night the fault lay with government cuts rather than the trusts. “It is not about how they are spending the money. It is about them not having enough,” he said.
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