One possible future:

IT S a good hospital. The ideal outcome would be for the hospital to provide exactly the same range of services but at a lower volume. But we don t yet know whether that s doable, Dr Watson said. Everybody would like to see a thriving hospital at Hinch

IT'S a good hospital. The ideal outcome would be for the hospital to provide exactly the same range of services but at a lower volume. But we don't yet know whether that's doable," Dr Watson said.

"Everybody would like to see a thriving hospital at Hinchingbrooke, but there are question marks around maternity services and emergency surgery."

Urology and bowel surgery, where larger catchments generate the volume that helps achieve better "outcomes" - in other words, the patient gets better - will also come under the spotlight.

But intensive care, which is also needed for medical, rather than surgical, patients, is expected to survive, as is an A&E department, though possibly with the most serious cases going to Addenbrooke's, as the most serious head injuries usually do now.


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Putting all surgery into the treatment centre, allowing the hospital to close wards and operating theatres in the main building, and other re-organisational measures were feasible, but the level of savings had not yet been identified, Dr Watson said.

"What we will not say," he promised, "is 'it's running at a loss and therefore it goes'."

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He insisted the review would look only at what was financially and clinically sustainable over the longer term. For that the debt would be ignored.

But it will still have to be tackled. If income and costs can be matched on a year-by-year basis, so that the deficit stops growing, there will be other ways of dealing with the debt.

Among those being considered by the Hinchingbrooke board are selling the southern end of the site for development when the three wards there close (though it is not clear how this would affect the mental health trust's Hawthorn Ward), selling the new £22million treatment centre and leasing back most of its facilities, or re-financing the private finance initiative deal on more favourable terms.

In the meantime the debt is being funded by debt-free hospitals in other parts of the country.

"The debts can escalate very quickly. The £29.9million is a worry, but we are not going to demand that level of cuts in service.

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