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Health minister offers glimmer of hope on funding
A HEALTH minister has offered a glimmer of hope to health bosses facing a massive debt crisis, during a visit to the region.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter was visiting Darlington Memorial Hospital to take part in one of the first of a new type of hospital food inspections when The Northern Echo showed him an extraordinary plea from cash-strapped health chiefs.
With NHS North Yorkshire and York facing debts of up to £60m by March, the trust's chairman, Kevin McAleese released a lengthy statement about the debt crisis ahead of the primary care trust's next board meeting on Tuesday.
In the statement he sets out a detailed explanation why the NHS in North Yorkshire is not adequately funded to reflect its degree of rurality and its high proportion of elderly patients.
"The hope must be that the revised funding formula per patient being released by the Department of Health in December begins to address some of the historic challenges which have always been faced locally with a population spread over 3,200 miles.
"If it does not then the mismatch between the funding available and patient demand for services can only increase and Clinical Commissioning Groups will face even tougher decisions about priorities and affordability than the PCT board has had to grapple with over the past six years."
When asked to comment by The Northern Echo Dr Poulter said: "I had a meeting this week with (Thirsk and Malton MP) Anne McIntosh, who has raised these concerns consistently.
"This is something I have taken on board and I know this is something we are going to be looking at very carefully."
Dr Poulter said the Government has already taken steps "to recognise the needs of parts of the country that have a lot of older people."
But he added that it was also right that areas with high health inequalities should continue to be prioritised.
During Dr Poulter's visit to Darlington Memorial Hospital he met staff and patients and enjoyed a steak and vegetable pie for lunch.
After meeting patients he said: "There is a model here in Darlington that we can learn from and take elsewhere in the country."
His visit highlighted a new patient-led approach to inspecting all aspects of hospital food.
Dr Poulter added: "The Government is very committed to putting the patient very much at the health of healthcare."
Patient representative Brian Jefferson, 74, from Darlington, said: "The food here is so good I often come here to have my lunch. The variety is good and prices are reasonable."
Head of catering Stuart Wray said the Darlington kitchens provided 20,000 meals a week for all the hospitals in the trust.
New assessments of catering at different hospitals is due to be published next year.