North Yorkshire health bosses warn NHS debt crisis could close GP surgeries (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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North Yorkshire health bosses warn NHS debt crisis could close GP surgeries
HEALTH chiefs last night admitted they were facing a “nightmare” debt crisis that will leave no hospital untouched and could even see some GP surgeries close.
Despite announcing £10m of controversial cuts only last month, NHS costs in North Yorkshire and York have far outstripped even the most pessimistic predictions, forcing management back to the drawing board in a bid to balance the books.
Latest statistics show the primary care trust was running a £24m deficit at the end of August. Unless drastic cuts are implemented immediately, watchdogs fear that figure could be as high as £60m by March.
Jim Clark, chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee and his deputy, John Blackie, said they feared the proposed downgrading of services at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, could be “the tip of the iceberg”.
In the same week Prime Minister David Cameron told the Tory party conference that the Conservatives were “the party of the NHS” the concerned watchdogs revealed:
- Hopes that £10m of cuts could bring the deficit under control have been dashed;
- The scale of the problem is so grave that no hospital is likely to be left untouched;
- GP surgeries may have to close and their patients transferred;
- Smaller general hospitals are set to bear the brunt of the spending crackdown.
This summer, the Royal College of Nursing claimed hospital trusts throughout the North-East and Cumbria needed to save £100m.
But the shocking deterioration of the financial position in North Yorkshire will fuel fears that £100m may prove to be hopelessly optimistic.
NHS North Yorkshire and York chief executive, Chris Long, said the deficit had risen sharply from £19m largely due to a higher than anticipated demand for hospital services.
He admitted urgent action was needed to stop the trust plunging further into the red, but stressed it would not affect patients’ access to emergency care.
Mr Long said: “In order to ensure that we can continue to provide essential services to everyone in North Yorkshire and York, we must make some difficult decisions about the services we provide both this year and into the next year.”
Councillor Blackie said he feared many services at the county’s small general hospitals were in doubt because they were likely to bear the brunt of the cuts.
He said: “We are now facing a nightmare scenario. If we are not careful, in North Yorkshire we might end up as an NHS-free zone.”
Councillor Clark said because the primary care trust had built up a deficit of £24m by the end of August, five months into the financial year and without a major overhaul of services, the deficit could rise to £60m by March.
He said the proposed £10m savings plan, which includes reviews of planned hospital treatment and inpatient follow-up appointments, closing minor injury units and cutting community hospital beds, still left savings to find.
He said the volume of cuts expected to be proposed in the county, which are likely to involve the reshaping of services at all the general hospitals in North Yorkshire and York, and could include the closure of GP surgeries, would depend on how quickly savings could be implemented.
Coun Clark said the deficit had arisen partly because the county received relatively little NHS funding and partly because of the trust’s budget management.
The trust, which spent three years clearing the £45m debt it inherited from its predecessor in 2009, has employed accountants KPMG to propose savings to prevent the county facing yet another huge deficit in the future.
The concerns emerge two days after David Cameron told the Conservative Party conference that his Government was overseeing a renaissance of the NHS, with reduced hospital waiting lists and fewer infections.
He said: “Be in no doubt: this is the party of the NHS and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”
Cabinet colleague and Richmondshire MP William Hague, who is battling to maintain paediatric and maternity services at the Friarage hospital, in Northallerton, last night said he would be holding talks about the rising deficit while in his constituency next week.