Mental health savings not enough

PUBLISHED: 08:15 19 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:02 22 October 2010

Cuts to frontline mental health services in the region looked inevitable last night despite a range of proposed savings like reducing the number of hot meals served to patients each day and ending free car parking.

Cuts to frontline mental health services in the region looked inevitable last night despite a range of proposed savings like reducing the number of hot meals served each day and ending free car parking.

Bosses at the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, which is attempting to claw back an expected net funding shortfall of more than £4.6m, concede that non-clinical services cutbacks will make only a small dent in the deficit. Now clinical services will be reviewed.

All NHS health trusts have been ordered by the Department of Health to balance their books by the end of this financial year.

Although the trust says redundancies would be a "last resort," it has already announced a freeze on non-essential vacancies and ordered limited use of agency staff.

A spokeswoman said: "None of these cost-cutting decisions has been easy but by changing or discontinuing some of our non-clinical services, we will be reducing the amount of clinical services we are forced to take away from our service users."

A review of the trust's laundry contract has already saved £50,000 and the latest measures are expected to make similar small-scale savings.

The trust faces an estimated £5.2m shortfall in funding for 2006/7. In a strong financial performance in previous years, the trust broke even for the past seven years and in 2005/6 underspent by £900,000 - equating to an expected £4.3m cost reduction. It is seeking to reduce costs by £4.6m in 2006/7 to deliver a small surplus to carry forward to 2007/8.

Hospital and health care trusts across the eastern region are being forced to make major cash and job cuts after health secretary Patricia Hewitt demanded action to clear deficits making up a net £512m debt across the NHS.

The list of options for the mental health trust includes:

Exploring the option of charging for car parking which at present is free on all sites;

Reducing catering costs by providing one, not two, daily hot meals over the summer months. A multi-choice menu will be introduced to improve choice while reducing costs;

Ending the trust's on-site hairdressing service. Mobile hairdressers could be invited to trust premises but this would be paid for by patients

Renegotiating of contracts for taxis and service user transport

Making inpatients pay for their own newspapers. There is a possibility that charitable funds could be used.

A review of the trust's mail franking and delivery.

Measures that are still being considered include streamlining clinical services, pooling recourses with primary care trusts and hiring out trust premises.

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