NHS faces a shake-up to ease debts

PUBLISHED: 07:26 15 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:01 22 October 2010


Fears were growing last night that some specialist services could be merged between hospitals in a shake-up of East Anglia's debt-plagued NHS.


Fears were growing last night that some specialist services could be merged between hospitals in a shake-up of East Anglia's debt-plagued NHS.

Some hospitals elsewhere in the country could be down-graded or even closed, as the health service grapples with a £512m overspend, its chief executive said yesterday.

In an interview with a national newspaper, Sir Ian Carruthers pointed to East Anglia as the region where the health service had the biggest deficit problem.

The region's hospitals and primary care trusts are in the red to the tune of £100m - a fifth of the country's entire NHS debt.

Sir Ian said chief executives of strategic health authorities were drawing up local development plans, identify-ing which services could be reorganised.

While no details of which services could be reorganised between hospitals have yet emerged, Sir Ian warned the NHS faced "major change".

Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority would only confirm it was working on the plans.

"We are looking broadly at all services to ensure they are efficient and meet patients needs," a spokesman said.

Consultants at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, which is £11m in the red, fear that services such as orthopaedics or some cancer treatments could be moved to larger hospitals in Norwich or Peterborough.

North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said staff had raised their concerns with him. "Consultants are very worried about their special-ities," he said. "It's very important they are kept in place or it will become vulnerable in future.

"I'm particularly concerned that the QE maintains its critical mass. I don't want it to become an outstation of the N&N or Peterborough Hospital."

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: "I'm conscious of the financial crisis facing the NHS, particularly in the East of England. I've spoken to some hospital staff and get the clear impression there is a risk of what they would call rationalisation or cutbacks."

Last night Ruth May, chief executive of the QEH, was saying only that the hospital was on track to get its finances back in the black.

Andrew Stronach, for the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, said Sir Ian's comments highlighted the risks for trusts which became "financially destablised".

Julie Cave, director of finances at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, said she was not aware of any plans to close any services at the hospital.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sir Ian said: "The action we need to take is challenging - probably the most challenging in the history of the NHS.

"People will need to look for local solutions. But there will be major change in all district general hospitals. I can think of very few instances where we are talking about closing whole hospitals. You never say never, but I can think of very few where that would be the case.

"The first task of the new strategic health authority chief executives will be to finalise local development plans in which they will identify service reconfigur-ations. We should be in a position later this year to take decisions and make them public."

Geoff Martin, head of campaigns for pressure group Health Emergency, said: "The NHS are softening us up for some major cuts and closures later this year.

"This is the first time that the NHS chief executive has accepted that whole hospitals may be left to go bust."

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