Norfolk's NHS debt warning

The dire finances of the health service in Norfolk came came under the spotlight again yesterday when senior officials met to discuss how they were addressing their multi-million pound debt.

The dire finances of the health service in Norfolk came came under the spotlight again yesterday when senior officials met to discuss how they were addressing their multi-million pound debt.

Norfolk Primary Care Trust's current debt crisis worsened since their last predication - from a forecast of £42m to £45m.

But there was a warning yesterday that its potential financial risks could see its debt reach in excess for £50m by the end of the financial year.

Yesterday's PCT board meeting at the Links Country Park Hotel at West Runton heard pressures facing the PCT included a shortfall of expected cash from dentist's contracts and a £1m shortfall from the Department of Health for dispensing fees.

Edward Libby, a non-executive director, said: “If we were a commercial organisation the bank would have pulled out mortgage a long time ago.”

But Sheila Childerhouse, chairman of the board, said it was because of previous figures at former district PCTs not being robust enough.

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Ways of turning around the finances included 'admission avoidance initiatives', robust management of the dentist contract and negotiating contracts with organisations from which the PCT purchases services.

Further cash is set to be saved by the closure of about 120 of 227 community beds.

A report outlining the public's outcry to this proposal was noted by the board.

And in another move to help the PCT fill its financial black hole, it was agreed to give delegated powers to the PCT's senior management team to sell off PCT property valued at under £500,000.

But there were assurances that no cottage hospitals could be sold off by the back door because of this.

In a review of the PCT's buildings, support in principle, was given by the board for four projects currently on hold.

These are: an extension at Heathgate Surgery in south Norfolk; temporary siting of the Windmill surgery at Wymondham in the town's health centre; a new building for the surgery at Terrington St Clement; a new surgery at South Lynn in the new millennium community.

The board also heard that the PCT was not meeting targets for getting people to quit smoking.

About 500 less than last year quit for four weeks, 2,500 less than the target.