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Hewitt tough on hospitals’ debt

PUBLISHED: 07:30 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

MARK NICHOLLS

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt bluntly told cash-strapped health authorities across the region yesterday they must balance their books. With health trusts across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire up to £100m in debt, she made few concessions during a visit to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Norwich Community Hospital.

MARK NICHOLLS

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt bluntly told cash-strapped health authorities across the region yesterday they must balance their books.

With health trusts across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire up to £100m in debt, she made few concessions during a visit to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Norwich Community Hospital.

And to underline her message, she was accompanied by the chief executive of a high-performing under-spending north-east health trust, who was available to offer “financial advice” to those who may need it.

She also offered little comfort to staff at the N&N, where 450 redundancies are threatened as Norfolk's flagship hospital tries to plug a £15m hole in its budget, though she acknowledged that management and staff were working to minimise compulsory redundancies.

The health secretary ruled out any special concessionary payments to the N&N to off-set the PFI deal.

A meeting between Norfolk MPs and Ms Hewitt a few weeks ago - over the PFI burden and £70m profit Octagon Healthcare made from re-financing the deal - is believed to have triggered yesterday's visit to the county.

She confirmed to the EDP there would be no special PFI payment, say-ing: “The hospital has had a significant amount of additional income over the years for the high cost of PFI.

“The people of Norfolk have got one of the best hospitals in the country. It is an early PFI deal, which means the funding costs were higher but the building costs were much lower.”

Ms Hewitt also expressed concern at the region's overspend and warned that primary care trusts (PCTs) and hospitals must balance their books, with the veiled threat that outside financial experts could be called in.

“It is not fair for other parts of the country that have balanced their books to have to bail out services in Norfolk,” she said.

But Ms Hewitt praised facilities at the N&N and also Norwich Community Hospital. She praised the way the community hospital had move more facilities out into the community - and saved money in the process and also stressed there were no plans to cut down on A&E departments in Norfolk.

Last night, N&N chief executive Paul Forden said the health secretary had agreed to have a look at the funding formula for the N&N.

He added: “It was a positive step for her to come and see the hospital.”

Unison branch secretary at the N&N Harry Seddon added: “She now certainly understands how the combination of our PFI and the new NHS funding formula is affecting what she acknowledged to be a good, successful, tightly-managed hospital - major job losses, including compulsory redundancies, which will inevitably affect services badly.”

The British Medical Association yesterday raised serious concerns about private sector involvement in the NHS and its impact on patient care and also warned of the “breakneck pace” of reforms. Ms Hewitt will meet the BMA next week. She said NHS staff she was meeting supported the nature of the reforms.

cOMMENT - Page 20


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