PCT chief resigns as merger row goes on

HUNTINGDONSHIRE patients look set to pick up the bill for healthcare elsewhere in Cambridgeshire after the man who fought their corner was sidelined last week by the National Health Service. When plans last year to streamline the NHS included merging all

HUNTINGDONSHIRE patients look set to pick up the bill for healthcare elsewhere in Cambridgeshire after the man who fought their corner was sidelined last week by the National Health Service.

When plans last year to streamline the NHS included merging all the primary care trusts in the county into one, Huntingdonshire PCT was outraged.

As the only primary trust in the county consistently to deliver services within its budget, it suspected a blatant attempt to get patients in the district to bail out heavily loss-making trusts, particularly in Cambridge city and South Cambridgeshire.

Its chairman, Michael Lynch, mounted a robust defence of the Hunts trust, arguing that, since it consistently operated within its budget while delivering year-on-year improvements in care, it should be left intact.

In a strongly-worded letter to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt he attacked the strategic health authority's merger proposal as "utterly illogical" and lacking a compelling business case. Separate campaigns were launched by the district's two MPs, Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) and The Hunts Post to prevent patients in Huntingdonshire having to fund losses of up to £50million a year in Cambridge and South Cambs.

The Hunts Post's campaign was also backed by Huntingdonshire District Council, which had joined with the PCT - which provides GP and NHS dental services and funds most hospital treatments - in a number of ventures, including the Oak Tree Health Centre, about to open in Oxmoor.

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Last week, Mr Lynch learned that he had been unsuccessful in his application to chair the new county-wide trust.

"This is pay-back time for his trying to prevent our readers from funding other people's gross over-spending," said Paul Richardson, publisher of The Hunts Post and editor at the time the campaign was launched. "Mr Lynch's arguments for retaining the Huntingdonshire trust were compelling, overwhelming and simple. It ain't broke, so don't fix it."

Mr Lynch, who resigned suddenly on Monday as chairman of the Hunts trust, was saying little. "Naturally, I'm disappointed not to have the chance to build on what we have achieved in Huntingdonshire in the five and a half years since the trust was set up, but I wish the new chairman well."

MP Shailesh Vara said: "I hope Michael Lynch will continue to be involved in some way because his record of success is something the new bigger PCT could learn from.

"I hope the decision not to appoint him had nothing to do with his robust defence of Huntingdonshire PCT."

Mr Djanogly also paid tribute to Mr Lynch's achievements. The real test of the new trust would be whether proposed super-surgeries for St Neots and St Ives - already delayed, he believed, by funds being diverted away from Huntingdonshire to prop up the loss-makers - went ahead soon, he told The Hunts Post.

The appointment of the new chairman is due to be announced on Friday.

In his letter of resignation, Mr Lynch wished the new trust and its chairman success "in overcoming what I know will be a huge challenge in delivering the same level of service improvement and financial rigour that we achieved consistently in Huntingdonshire PCT".

He outlined some of the principal achievements of the Hunts trust in the past five years, including:

* Three new surgeries (Huntingdon, St Neots and Little Paxton) and a new branch surgery at Bluntisham.

* The new £10million Oak Tree Primary Care Centre that becomes operational this month.

* An increase in the number of GPs from 87 to 146.

* A start on development of a £7.5million children's centre, to open for early in 2007.

* Increased access to NHS dental services for over 22,000 new patients in the past 12 months.

* Introduction of the only integrated acute and community children's service in the country which had earned two Charter Marks since.

* Operation and management of the Huntingdonshire NHS out of hours service, considered the most successful and most efficient in East Anglia.

* Initiating practice based commissioning in October 2005, a year ahead of the NHS published timetable.

* Supporting local GPs in setting-up HuntsComm, a new GP-led primary care commissioning organisation comprising all but one GP practices in Huntingdonshire.

Mr Lynch added: "Many other initiatives are by themselves much less spectacular, but when combined and aligned, delivered a step-change not just in delivery of services to patients but also in patients' satisfaction with the NHS.

"In Huntingdonshire, all this was delivered within budget year-on-year against patient expectations that have been rising continually with each service improvement.

"Year on year we also managed financially to support Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust, not only with its new developments, but with its year-to-year difficulties in achieving balance," he wrote.

"That is a tribute not just to the staff of the PCT, but also to the willing and effective collaboration of partners within and outside the NHS. Development of these successful partnerships has been key to the success of the Huntingdonshire PCT that has not always been replicated elsewhere," he reminded NHS managers.

"Had you wished me to build on those achievements as chairman of the new Cambridgeshire PCT, I would have wished to protect the level of service we have been able to provide in Hunts and extend it to improve NHS provision for other parts of the county, where the level of service has hitherto been achieved only by spending considerably more money than the taxpayer was willing to make available.

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