£6.5million error adds to hospital debts

The mounting debts at Hinchingbrooke Hospital were increased after it mistakenly repaid nearly £6.5million it did not actually owe – and the Government refused to give it back. Interim chief executive, Jane Herbert said yesterday (Tuesday) she was still fight

The mounting debts at Hinchingbrooke Hospital were increased after it mistakenly repaid nearly £6.5million it did not actually owe - and the Government refused to give it back.

Interim chief executive, Jane Herbert said yesterday (Tuesday) she was still fighting to get the cash returned after a mistake thought to have happened in May of this year.

The overpayment was publicly revealed during a meeting in Huntingdon last week, where it was also announced that finance director, Phil Richards had resigned.

The Cambridgeshire County Council health scrutiny committee meeting, at Pathfinder House, the headquarters of Huntingdonshire District Council, heard that someone had incorrectly filled in a routine form detailing the number of operations carried out.

This led to the Department of Health (which had given the hospital advance money to carry out operations) claiming back £6.5million which should have remained with Hinchingbrooke.

The hospital wrote asking for the money back but was told that it had already been spent.

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Ms Herbert said: "We have been told that the money goes into a national pot to be shared across the UK and it has been taken out by somebody else. We are continuing to make our case to the Department of Health that the money should be returned to us."

She added that the form was complex and a lot of it looked the same. "I can see how the figure could have been put in the wrong box but it does raise the question of whether this is a sensibly designed form."

However, she added: "Somebody should have checked something of that importance."

Former finance director Mr Richards is now working for the body which holds Hinchingbrooke's future in its hands, the East of England Strategic Health Authority. Ms Herbert said he had been seconded on a short-term contract.

The hospital's chief executive, Doug Pattisson, resigned last month.

The SHA is currently reviewing Hinchingbrooke's structure and services. The hospital debt is currently forecast to reach £29million by next year.

Ms Herbert publicly confirmed Mr Richards' departure after the Mayor of Huntingdon, Councillor Jeff Dutton, asked at the meeting how many members of the hospital trust had financial expertise and how many had been sacked for incompetence.

Ms Herbert said staff morale at Hinchingbrooke was "better than I thought it would be".

"People concentrate on their day jobs and it is only in the car on the way home that they think, what about my future? Patient care is very high here and there is a lot of job satisfaction.

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