THE PUBLIC was told to expect tough years ahead at the annual public meeting of Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Trust yesterday (Thursday).
Trust bosses did not try to gloss over the financial difficulties facing the organisation, many of which stem from the move to the new Peterborough City Hospital.
Despite the financial hardships, the hospital trust healthcare performance received a much more positive appraisal, with positive external inspections and decreased death rates.
The year also saw the introduction of radiotherapy treatments to PCH and the opening of the helipad, improving its abilities as an emergency hospital.
However, the shadow of the financial problems looms over the trust and the meeting was held in one of the pristine lecture theatres at the £289m hospital.
The audience was told that the move to the new site had contributed to a projected £54m deficit this year, worsening the £46m lost in 2011 to 2012.
Dr Peter Reading, the interim chief executive officer who took over in November 2011, is one of a number of people appointed to help deliver the trust back from its financial hardships.
Dr Reading said: “This is a tough year and it will be the first of many tough years.
“We need to save £33m over three years.
“We have identified £10m in savings, but in many ways that is the easy £10m.
“We need more to raise more money by getting more patients and a deal with the treasury for excess costs.
“Even if we can do that, it is going to be a very, very difficult challenge.”
Dr Reading spoke of concern that too many people were using the emergency department and predicted that those numbers are still increasing.
Answering a question from the audience, Dr Reading did say that financial decisions would never take priority over offering the best healthcare.
Peterborough City Council councillor Keith Sharpe asked: “The deficit worries me. Can you reassure us that this deficit is not going to compromise the service you are offering?”
Dr Reading replied: “The days of the NHS being driven by money are gone.
“We are checked by a whole host of organisations, in the thousands, for our quality of service. Quality comes first.”
A recurring theme through the meeting was the cost borne by the PFI contract that was signed by the old board for the creation of the new hospital.
Mary Cooke, who is health representative for Peterborough Pensioners’ Union, asked: “We had people on that board pushing for these PFI contracts.
“Then when we signed them, those people moved on. Should they have stayed so we could show them our disgust?”
Nigel Hards, chairman of the hospital trust, replied: “It would be easy for me to blame the past board, but I won’t do it.
“I will try every way possible to solve the financial problem.
“We desperately needed a new hospital.
“I’m not saying everything in the contract was right, but let’s support the hospital.”
Director of finance and performance Christopher Preston also took to the stage to explain the financial problems.
Mr Preston said: “The main reason is that we moved into the new hospital and that has increased our costs.”
His figures showed that £13m of the projected losses are from PFI payments that were not received.
However, the hospital also spent £6m over budget on staffing costs and £8m more than they had predicted on drugs.
Despite the financial problems, there was some good news on the trust’s healthcare provision side.
Last week PCH received an ‘excellent’ Patient Environment Action Teams inspection and it also got full compliance in a Care Quality Control inspection.
Dr Reading said: “This has been an incredibly busy year. Over half a million patients visited us.”
Christine Wilkinson, who is director of care quality, revealed that MRSA and mortality had decreased while provisions for stroke, maternity and cancer wards had improved over the past year.
Mrs Wilkinson said: “Our key actions in the last year have been safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience.
“We have had reduced falls, continue to work on injection control and are also helping junior doctors with prescriptions.
“There is also focus on older people’s care pathways.
“It is important to capture the patient experience and offer a timely response to patients.”
The fourth and final speaker at the meeting was lead governor Mark Bush.
He said: “It was said this has been a difficult year - that is an understatement.
“The governors hope the dire finances created by the PFI can be resolved.”
This week the closure of the pathology lab at Stamford Hospital was confirmed.
The decision follows the unveiling of a long-term strategy for the hospital.
Outpatient clinics are set to expand with more treatment options and the minor injuries unit will become nurse-led. The only other area that could be lost is the operating theatre.