We will never close the hospital’

THE chief executive of Hinchingbrooke Hospital has promised the people of Huntingdonshire their hospital will not close – now or in the future. New Government figures, which predict the hospital could be submerged in £20million of debt by the end of the f

THE chief executive of Hinchingbrooke Hospital has promised the people of Huntingdonshire their hospital will not close - now or in the future.

New Government figures, which predict the hospital could be submerged in £20million of debt by the end of the financial year, have fuelled speculation about Hinchingbrooke's future.

But the suggestion of further redundancies, services being cut or merged, or even the hospital closing completely have been rejected outright by chief executive Douglas Pattisson.

Yesterday he told The Hunts Post that while the financial situation was serious, inroads had been made into the hospital's current savings plan and measures were being put in place to save further money.

He said: "At the moment no recommendations have been made about the long term future (of Hinchingbrooke) but the hospital is not going to close."

While the hospital is currently £6million in debt, Mr Pattisson stressed the £20million projection was just that - a prediction which would change as the hospital spends or saves money.

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The hospital also has a reassuring safety net which could wipe out its debts entirely. By moving the wards from the back to the front of the hospital - a plan which is already in motion - the land to the rear would be free to develop either as another medical site or - a more likely situation - as new housing.

However, the hospital is reluctant to rush a decision to down-size its footprint and buildings because patient numbers and demands on its services will fluctuate over the coming years.

Mr Pattisson said Government initiatives will in the future require patients to be fully treated within 18 weeks - a scheme which could reverse the trend of treating people away from hospitals.

It is this trend which is also hitting Hinchingbrooke's financial situation. Huntingdonshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) wants fewer patients treated in hospital and more seen by GPs or even in their own homes.

Hospitals are simply too expensive.

The PCT, which buys services from Hinchingbrooke, has reduced the amount of services it wants the hospital to provide, effectively reducing its income and budget.

In 2005/6 the hospital had £72million to spend (which it overspent by £2million). This financial year, its budget will be reduced to about £60million. Unlike foundation hospitals - such as Addenbrooke's and Peterborough - Hinchingbrooke has no contract with the NHS which protects its income.

"Short term will see £4million saved this year and those measures will save a further £2million next year," said Mr Pattisson. "The question for the hospital is how can it live within its means."

So far, there are no plans to cut services or merge services with Addenbrooke's or Peterborough. The hospitals already work closely, sharing consultants and this will not change.

Mr Pattisson said the A&E department is also safe: "The A&E service here looks after 40,000 people a year and it is obvious we need to retain it here."

So where are the £9.6million savings (the target the hospital has so far set itself) coming from? Already highlighted are the 200 posts being made redundant - 31 people have been made redundant so far while others have volunteered for redundancy and or left for other jobs.

Pay savings will reduce expenditure by £5.1million. Restructuring work, which has seen bed numbers reduced by 21 per cent, and non-pay savings equates to another £1.9million.

The structure of night-time cover is also being changed with fewer staff at times when demand for services is at its lowest. This is already being implemented in three stages, although Mr Pattisson said patients should not see any difference in service levels.

Clearly, there is a great deal more work needed to reduce the hospital's expenditure.

The £250,000 report by KPMG, which goes before the hospital board on September 7, will show the hospital is efficient compared with other hospitals around the country.

But with a predicted fall in patient numbers, a dwindling budget and the new treatment centre payments to meet (£250,000 a month), options may be limited.

The idea of selling some of the land for development - the hospital has contacted Huntingdonshire District Council to see how it would fit in with the local plan - may be the only option to put the hospital back on an even keel.

However, this could be years away because of the unpredictability of patient numbers. Hinchingbrooke doesn't want to sell its assets and then find space too limited. It is more than likely the hospital will carry its debts forward until the land can be released.

* Should Hinchingbrooke sell off part of its land to balance its books? Let us know your views by e-mailing editor@huntspost.co.uk or write to The Hunts Post, 30 High Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TB.