THE man at the helm of the under-fire NHS trust which runs the Conquest has warned that local people will have to get used to the idea of sharing services with Eastbourne.
Darren Grayson, who is chief executive of East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, says the economic climate will soon dictate that the Conquest and its sister hospital the DGH will have to adapt to pooling their resources.
This could mean key services end up being centralised at either one or the other.
Mr Grayson said this week: “Where we have expensive duplications of services across the trust we will have to look at that.
“We will need to look at things as one hospital on two sites. We will simply not be able to afford – and it does not always serve patients well – to have two of everything, one in Hastings and one in Eastbourne.”
Health campaigners have already expressed concerns that they believe maternity services are being earmarked for the chop – just years after locals in both towns successfully fought mooted plans to cutback at one site and establish a centre of expertise at the other.
Mr Grayson said he was not in a position to confirm anything at this stage. He said: “No decisions have been made. I cannot rule anything in, or anything out.
“But equally it is clear that no change is simply not an option.”
The reason the trust is even looking at making changes is its unenviable current financial status. Mr Grayson and his team have been charged with finding £100 million of savings - including £30 million in this year alone.
The chief executive, who took charge slightly over a year ago, says he has no option other than to try and seek more value out of the trust’s 130 odd centres and 7,500 employees.
He is adamant that the fault lies not with the current staff and management, but with previous regimes.
“The trust has been under severe financial pressure for five or six years,” he said. “It did not deal with the reasons behind these pressures, which is why we are having to do so now.
“There are deep-rooted problems which need addressing in order to turn this round and we are making good progress.
“The previous hospital trust had a fairly good record at doing well for patients but not tackling these deep-seated issues.
“If these had been dealt with five years ago when they should have been it would have saved a lot of time and money. That is why we find ourselves in the position we are in.”
Head of that former management committee was chief executive Kim Hodgson, who hit the headlines for the size of her subsequent pay-off.
Mr Grayson accepts that sometimes people in his position can be seen as the big bad wolf of NHS cutbacks.
He said that while people accepted cuts in other areas, the most common view of the NHS was that money was not an option. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
The reality though, he argues, is very different.
“The harsh reality is that we have to provide the best healthcare with the money which is made available.
“Some people will say that money is irrelevant to healthcare but that is simply not the case. The Government does not hand the NHS a blank cheque.”
Nevertheless the trust does command a budget of more than £360 million and spends around £1 million a day.
In the last 12 months a total of 4,300 babies have been delivered across East Sussex, 300,000 people had contact with district nurses, 314,000 attended outpatient clinics, 31,000 were seen at sexual health centres and 140,000 people were treated in emergency and minor injury units.
In that time the trust received around 500 complaints, a figure that while representing a small percentage of patients, still presented challenges to his staff.
The forthcoming publication of a follow-up report to the Care Quality Commission’s early damning inspection could yet add even more pressure to management and frontline staff alike.
“We think the report will be with us by the end of the year,” said Mr Grayson, “and that it will say we are making good progress but there is more to be done.
“That is the way we view things as well. I have enjoyed my time here and am confident we can make real improvements.
“The people of East Sussex deserve the same standard of care as people living elsewhere in the country.”
Part of that, it seems, it so resists the downgrading of hospital status suffered elsewhere in Sussex.
“I expect Hastings and Eastbourne to continue having district general hospitals. They will not become community hospitals.
“They will change but they will remain.”
Should East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust fail to hit its savings targets however, and it will almost certainly not become a much-prized foundation trust, meaning key services will be amalgamated into neighbouring trusts and decisions taken from outside the county borders.
That though, is not an option currently being considered locally.
“People like myself and others in this trust have given their careers to the NHS,” Mr Grayson said, “I have never done anything else.
“Why I do it is because I want to make a contribution and make the service better. That is true of everyone in this trust.
“Whatever is done is done with the best intentions.”