Drastic cuts to save health trust £10m

tis  Harrogate District Hospital exterior.  101020M1a.
tis Harrogate District Hospital exterior. 101020M1a.

Sweeping cuts could be felt across Harrogate as the health trust enforces “emergency measures” to claw back £10m - before it runs out of money to pay GPs.

NHS North Yorkshire and York faces a year-end deficit of £19m. Now, to make sure that sum isn’t exceeded further, “immediate and extraordinary” measures are being brought in.

Elective surgeries, hospital beds, health checks and more are all under threat of review in a move described as “unpalatable but vital” by the PCT trust’s chief executive.

“The consequence of going into a spiral of overspend could be very bad indeed,” Christopher Long warned board members at a meeting on Tuesday. “This is our problem - the cupboard is bare.

“The short term cuts might be unpalatable. They might be unpopular. But unless we do it, we run the risk of running out of cash.”

Mr Long had warned that if spending carried on at its current rate, the trust faced the challenge of being unable to buy drugs or pay its GPs’ salaries.

“We can move the invoices around the system as much as you like, but unless we move the cash around then we have got problems,” he said.

“These are emergency measures to make sure that the level of overspend doesn’t come to the point that it’s absolutely undeliverable in the future.”

A series of savings was laid out before the board for approval, totalling £10m.

Criteria for elective surgeries - from hip and knee joints to plastic surgery and tonsillectomy operations - is to be “tightened up”, saving an estimated £2.8m.

The biggest saving - £3.1m - is to come from a review of follow-up appointments. The number of hospital beds will be cut as will opening hours for minor injuries units.

The trust is looking at switching from expensive drugs to cheaper ones, cutting funding for “enhanced” services at GPs surgeries, and redesigning patient transport services.

Scrutinising mental health services - a department already said to be “stretched” in Harrogate - could save a further £1.5m.

A planned expansion of health visitor services, meanwhile, has been scrapped after it was deemed “low priority”.

The plans prompted a heated discussion, with members of the public pleading with the trust to reconsider.

“This really is a case of passing the parcel-bomb,” warned one man, while a GP said it was “flash and burn cuts”.

“For every pound saved, two or three will be spent in consequence,” he warned.

“This paper could be the longest suicide note this organisation has ever written.”

The board stressed these savings would be “temporary” measures to be brought into effect for the last financial quarter only.

Mr Long said he was in talks with other trusts to find a further nine million through underspends elsewhere.

In the longer term, consultants KPMG have been brought in to scrutinise accounts.

A report is expected to be brought before the board in early November to outline where further savings can be made.

“We have a statutory responsibility to break even,” said board chairman Kevin McAleese, approving the measures. “It would be amiss to not even try.”

Chairman of North Yorkshire’s County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, Jim Clark, said after the meeting that he wasn’t convinced.

“I don’t think this is going to serve the people of North Yorkshire,” said the county councillor, who also serves Rossett ward in Harrogate.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction. We need to think of a longer term solution.”

Coun Clark said he believed the deficit was more likely to be £40m to £50m.

Areas like Leeds, with an underspend of £23m, were getting too much money he added, while North Yorkshire isn’t getting enough.

“We need to look at how the health services is funded in this area,” he added.

“This is a short-term reaction to a problem that’s ongoing. It doesn’t address the major issues.”