The management and staff of West Suffolk Hospital must be commended for producing the outstanding quality of patient care found by the Care Quality Commission after November’s inspection, but as chief executive Dr Stephen Dunn points out, this has been under growing pressure.
Putting this crudely, the NHS needs more funding, having had historically minimal annual increases since 2010.
To meet good standards and to get out of debt, our hospital – and others – needs more money for more beds, more treatments and more staff, as well as better standards of pay.
With sufficient funding, our hospital’s able and conscientious management would have been able to prepare more effectively to deal with the surge in patient demand during the first week of January, without cancelling many planned operations.
As a member of the public, I observed the West Suffolk’s Clinical Commissioning Group’s meeting on January 24. A maximum four-hour process from arrival to exit at the hospital’s emergency department is aimed for in 95 per cent of cases, and has been achieved this year in above 90 per cent of cases.
However, the information supplied was that in the peak week of January 1 to 7, this target was managed in under 68 per cent of cases and, on the worst day, January 3, it was reached in under 55 per cent.
I attended the hospital’s trust board meeting on January 26. Dr Dunn’s report pointed out, with regard to the four-hour target, that because the hospital’s achievement was under 90 per cent between October and December, it is on track to lose a large chunk of NHS funding (because of the carrot and stick mechanism controlling grants).
Further, resources director Craig Black indicated that such a penalty was likely to apply to the final quarter of the financial year, too.
It is worth recalling that the 2016-17 end-of-year deficit for the hospital was reported to be £3.4 million. For this financial year to end December, Mr Black calculated the deficit to be £4.8 million, worse than anticipated. Predicted penalties for not staying within four hours in enough emergency cases will presumably top up the total deficit.
The mid-winter crisis was, we know, well-planned for – but the necessary response to it, as matters turned out, added substantially to the backlog of planned surgical operations. I gather around 120 operations are delayed and outstanding.
So, black holes in hospital finances are growing, while an enormous one looms ahead. Our hospital was told last year it needs to make additional savings of £18.3 million over 12 months from April 1, 2018, and this must be impossible without a savage reduction in the service to patients.
I am informed that two packed Suffolk coaches set off on Saturday morning for the emergency ‘Fund it now!’ London demonstration.
This should be a big affair, and I hope our region’s MPs took part.
As I write, I have received no reply yet from Jo Churchill or Matthew Hancock, inviting them to stand behind the demand of hospital trusts across the country for £20 billion more over the next five years, with a down payment of £4 billion now. Our hospital would have a share, and can continue to be outstanding.
West Suffolk Trades Council