Extend time to pay back debt - MPs

Friday, 24 November, 2006

Health bosses may have to develop the powers of escapologist Harry Houdini to help to pay off Suffolk's health care debt, a concerned MP has claimed.

The Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT), Bury St Edmunds' West Suffolk Hospital and Ipswich Hospital are £57 million in debt and the Government says they must claw back the money by March 2008.

Last Friday, a group of Suffolk MPs met Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of the PCT, to see how savings could be made and if the Government could be lobbied to extend the amount of time allowed to pay off the debt.

David Ruffley, MP for Bury and Stowmarket, said: "It would take an escape act worthy of Houdini to pay off the debts and not cut costs at the same time.

"It is perfectly clear that the Government should extend the debt pay off period to make any cuts or savings as painless as possible to the people of Suffolk.

"There is a colossal amount of debt across Suffolk's health services and Mrs Taylor-Brown was very honest, open and transparent about the problems during the meeting."

Suffolk PCT was formed in October from a merger of the county's previous four PCTs. It is responsible for GPs, district nurses and five community hospitals.

The new health body, which has historic debts of £29.4 million, is already planning savings through a management review, lowering inappropriate hospital admissions and changing the way GPs prescribe drugs.

Mrs Taylor-Brown said: "We have robust plans to pay off the PCT's historic debt.

"This is a tough challenge but we know there are areas where we can make potential savings when we compare our productivity to other parts of the NHS."

Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said: "The situation is absolutely dire from a financial point of view, even though there have been rigorous attempts to make savings.

"The meeting was frank and constructive and I am pleased that Mrs Taylor-Brown attempted to answer all our questions."

Next week, Mr Spring will be meeting Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health. Mr Ruffley has sent her a strongly-worded letter asking her to reconsider the Government position.