Norfolk health trust's debts hit £40m

Norfolk Primary Care Trust - which is about to decide the fate of nine community hospitals - was last night revealed as the worst performing health authority in the eastern region after government figures highlighted its £40m-plus deficit.

Norfolk Primary Care Trust - which is about to decide the fate of nine community hospitals - was last night revealed as the worst performing health authority in the eastern region after government figures highlighted its £40m-plus deficit.

The latest figures make daunting reading for campaigners hoping that their community hospitals will not be axed to help the beleaguered trust save money.

Under the plans, the PCT is to shake-up intermediate care by providing more care at home for patients. But that could mean community hospitals closed and beds lost.

The EDP understands the final consultation document, due to be presented to the trust board at a special meeting next Tuesday , was yesterday still receiving last minute amendments which could have major repercussions for campaigners hoping to save their hospitals. Approval of the consultation document has already been delayed once when a scheduled meeting on February 6 was cancelled at short notice while changes were made.

The EDP is also backing the campaigners with our Save Our Beds campaign, which aims to see as many beds and hospitals as possible saved and pressure the PCT to take all views on board during a 90-day consultation process that will lead to a final decision some time in June.

The financial details were released yesterday showing that the total debt owed by NHS organisations is slowly increasing.

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The forecast gross deficit for 2006-07 is £1.32bn, according to statistics in the Department of Health report on the third quarter of the financial year, up from a £1.18bn forecast deficit three months ago.

The area covered by the East of England Strategic Health Authority has a deficit of just under £175m, up from £151m the previous quarter, making it the worst performing region in the UK. Norfolk PCT is shown as having a forecast deficit of £42m, though the trust has now updated that to £47m. Government figures show that deficits for other trusts are Cambridgeshire PCT (£37m), Suffolk PCT (£31m) and Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT (£5m). Poor financial management, NHS reforms and historic debt are blamed.

West Suffolk Hospital and Bury St Edmunds and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn are both struggling with debts of £11m apiece while the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is £600,000 adrift.

The James Paget Hospital at Gorleston, which now has foundation status, is showing a small surplus while the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership is about £500,000 in the black.

In addition to changes to intermediate care - with hospitals under threat in Norwich, Dereham, Wymondham, North Walsham, Cromer, Fakenham, Holt, Swaffham and Aylsham - Norfolk PCT has a plan of cuts and efficiencies to try to cut its deficit.

Finance director David Stonehouse said: “The figure which the PCT is currently reporting is a £47m deficit. We are working hard to address our financial challenges and improve our position.

“A financial turnaround plan has been developed by the PCT. The Turnaround Plan sets out the financial targets which the PCT is committing itself to achieve. It also outlines how the organisation expects to make the necessary savings based on the best information and ideas it has at this point in time.

“Whilst the PCT must ensure it fulfils its financial plan, the way it does that will be open to adjustment as new ideas are developed and existing ones are amended and improved following public consultation and discussion with other stakeholders.”

NHS chief executive David Nicholson said the NHS would break even this year with regional health bosses building up cash reserves which will be offset against the total debt.

Through “top slicing” PCT budgets a total of £1.14bn in reserves have been built but the report also showed that 35pc of NHS organisations are forecasting deficits compared with 33pc last quarter.

North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The latest NHS deficit figures show a deteriorating situation in the East of England where for counties such as Norfolk the situation remains dire.

“The requirement to clear the debt by the end of the next financial year continues to impose unacceptable burdens on the PCT and an unacceptable threat to patient services.”

“The government needs to think again about demanding the requirement to clear the deficit by the end of the next financial year. In places such as Norfolk the evidence is that it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

The figures come after it emerged that the NHS is paying drug firms hundreds of millions of pounds too much for branded drugs, according to an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) study. It called for an overhaul of the agreement between the NHS and pharmaceutical companies. However some health trusts in the East of England SHA area, have already started the move toward cheaper generic drugs to cut costs, particularly with cholesterol-busting statins.