Conquest hospital on cash tightrope

THE cash-strapped trust which runs the Conquest Hospital is walking a financial tightrope which could have a major impact on front line services.

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (ESHT) has been ordered to identify £30million in savings by the end of the year – and so far only £18million has been found.

And the trust’s board was told at a recent meeting that the organisation is spending out around £1million a month more than it is bringing in.

The situation has not been helped by a drop in income from patients being referred by GPs, which has piled more pressure on the trust’s already beleaguered purse.

And in a further blow the trust, which also runs Eastbourne’s DGH, is having to fork out £115,000 to pay for extra Microsoft licences for IT equipment across its sites – a cost which up until now has been met at a national level under an NHS deal.

It also faces a bill of almost £500,000 for specialist stroke chairs and mammography monitors and has had to earmark £650,000 for more single rooms at the Conquest after a recent report highlighted dignity problems associated with mixed-sex wards.

ESHT could be left in the untenable position of being denied foundation trust status if it fails to sort out its finances.

Foundation trusts are central to the Government’s plans to revolutionise the way the NHS is run and large service providers, like ESHT, are lobbying to achieve that status. Those which do not will be left in a political limbo and could be taken over by more successful neighbouring trusts.

Darren Grayson, the trust’s chief executive, confirmed that failure to balance the books would impact on front line services.

He said: “When a trust overspends it gets drawn into taking short-term actions that have consequences that people would not want.

“The confidence the Department of Health has in the trust is diminished which would affect our ability to go forward as a foundation trust.

“What that would mean is that this organisation would no longer exist – and that would mean substantial further change.”

However, he promised that staff across the trust were working hard to hit the stringent financial targets.

He said: “We overspent last year and this year we have a lot of work to do to make sure that does not happen again.

“We are doing a huge amount but these are not overnight things.”

Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “This is something that the trust has to do and Mr Grayson is trying very hard to sort things out.

“The trust is also involving the public more and being more transparent from the outset.”