HINCHINGBROOKE Hospital in Huntingdon could have avoided a \u00A36million deficit in the year just ended, were it not for a Government payment scheme that discriminates against efficient trusts, The Hunts Post has learned. The Department of Health has introduced a system of "payment by results" under which all hospitals are supposed to be paid the same cash sum for a particular procedure. But transitional arrangements mean that, while "foundation trusts", such as Papworth and Addenbrooke's, in Cambridge, get the full amount, Hinchingbrooke's payments are lower - with the difference used to prop up inefficient hospitals elsewhere in the NHS. "The amount we are paid for the same work is less, though it is going up," said a Hinchingbrooke spokesman. "It would be difficult to find any hospital that does not have higher costs than us. "We would not have been in deficit if we were paid at the same rate as foundation hospitals." The Department of Health defended the payments, saying: "The whole NHS would fall over if this were not phased in". Spokesman Amanda Waller acknowledged that Hinchingbrooke was a "very efficient, low-cost provider", which was starting to get more money - an extra \u00A32.2million this year. "The system is being phased in up to 2008\/09. To introduce it fully now "would mean taking away money from other trusts that are currently over-funded. It's being phased in to cushion the blow for the losers," she added. Unison branch secretary at the hospital, Hazel Gough, said the rules had left Hinchingbrooke losing out to Addenbrooke's again. "We are in a community surrounded by foundation trusts that have the power to charge and bill the PCTs for everything that they do. The PCTs have been obliged to pay the foundation trusts their bill, leaving Hinchingbrooke floundering in the wake of Addenbrooke's yet again," she said. "Each year the costs of the hospital increase but the income has been decreasing. Goalposts within the Government demands keep changing. The staff have been working hard in all areas in order to maintain the integrity of the hospital. "2005\/06 has been a hard year for staff having to move the A&E department during refurbishment. A reduction in beds was successfully undertaken in spite of an increase of patients. "Most staff have undergone a change in contract and had their jobs analysed under Agenda for Change to find that they are now paid according to the job they do. "It is felt that this was never funded for properly at a national level.