Solution in sight for budget crisis

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The chief executive of a troubled hospital says his fingers are crossed that a solution to its financial woes can be found next year.

Dr Peter Reading, the interim chief executive of the £289m Peterborough City Hospital, has welcomed moves by health regulator Monitor to send in an elite team of experts to resolve the hospital’s cash crisis.

He said: “I’m hoping Monitor’s contingency team can find some common ground between healthcare organisations locally to come up with a solution.

“I have my fingers crossed and we will have to wait and see.”

The 611-bed hospital, which has an annual income of £210m, is facing a £54m deficit this financial year.

The trust received a £41m bailout from the Government earlier this year and expects to receive a similar sum shortly.

Key to the problem is the private finance initiative approved in 2007 which allowed the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals Trust to borrow the money to build the new hospital.

The cost of repaying the loan means the trust’s liability is about £411m over 30 years. Its costs account for half of the hospital’s annual deficit.

The repayments began as amounts paid to the hospital for patient care by healthcare commissioning groups fell substantially. Inflation also impacts on hospital spending.

Dr Reading said: “We have to make substantial savings just to stand still. Our efficiency programme has already delivered £13.2m.

“We are looking at ways to make savings. This includes improving the use of our operating theatres. We could release four of our 21 theatres to new work, which would bring in more patients and so more income.

“But we cannot resolve the financial problems by ourselves. This is where I hope the action by Monitor will make a difference by trying to find a common ground among various health agencies to help us.”

He said a solution could involve an agreed annual subsidy from the Department of Health of between £11m and £26m a year.

The trust would need the support of the Department of Health, Monitor and the new healthcare commissioning groups to ensure more patients are sent to the hospital.

News of Monitor’s action came as the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee met to consider the way decisions were made to build the new hospital.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said: “It looks that the Strategic Health Authority, the trust, Monitor, the Department of Health all failed to do proper due diligence before the decision. No-one has ever been held to account. It almost seems like an issue of negligence here. I have never felt that on another NHS report.”