cash-strapped East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust is walking a financial tightrope which could have a major impact on frontline services.
It has been ordered to identify £30 million in savings by the end of the year – and so far only £18 million has been found. And the trust’s board was told at a recent meeting the organisation’s ‘run rate’ shows it spending out around £1million a month more than it is bringing in.
The situation has not been helped by a drop in income from patients being referred by GPs, which has piled more pressure on the trust’s already beleaguered purse. And in a further blow the trust is having to fork out £115,000 to pay for extra Microsoft licences for IT equipment across its sites – a cost which up until now has been met at a national level under an NHS deal.
It also faces a bill of almost £500,000 for specialist stroke chairs and mammography monitors and has had to earmark £650,000 for more single rooms at the Conquest in Hastings after a recent report highlighted dignity problems associated with mixed-sex wards.
Up until now the problems facing the trust have been common knowledge, but the Herald can reveal ESHT could be left in the untenable position of being denied foundation status if it fails to sort out its finances.
Foundation trusts are central to the Government’s plans to revolutionise the way the NHS is run and large service providers, like the ESHT, are lobbying to achieve that status. Those which do not will be left in a political limbo and could be taken over by more successful neighbouring trusts.
Speaking to the Herald, ESHT’s chief executive Darren Grayson confirmed that failure to balance the books would impact on frontline services.
“When a trust overspends it gets drawn into taking short-term actions that have consequences that people would not want. The confidence the Department of Health has in the trust is diminished which would affect our ability to go forward as a foundation trust.
“What that would mean is that this organisation would no longer exist – and that would mean substantial further change.”
However, he promised that staff across the trust were working hard to hit the stringent financial targets.
He said, “We overspent last year and this year we have a lot of work to do to make sure that does not happen again. We are doing a huge amount but these are not overnight things.”
Liz Walke, who heads the Save the DGH campaign group, said the issue of foundation trusts was a smoke screen and that the real issue was the provision of care, not who was providing it.
She said, “The trust is already being run by people who live outside the area, so I don’t see that as the real issue. What is important is making sure that, whoever is running services locally, whatever trust is in charge, the services that people need remain.”