Exclusive: Hospitals in struggle to hit targets

HOSPITALS across the region are struggling to hit punishing savings targets as the NHS prepares to launch a new £400m efficiency drive.

Analysis by the Yorkshire Post has found nearly half the 16 NHS trusts running hospital services for patients from the region will miss key savings targets in 2011-12.

Only the stricken Wakefield-based Mid Yorkshire trust has plunged into the red but shortfalls on cost-cutting measures, due to total nearly £250m overall, will make achieving targets harder in the coming year as most of the region’s hospitals set out tougher savings plans than ever before.

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Overall, NHS chiefs claim nearly £500m has been saved from budgets in the past 12 months in Yorkshire including action to shed jobs, axe beds, cut drugs bills and reduce demand for expensive hospital care.

But many hospitals have relied on extra income due to unscheduled increases in demand for care which are unlikely to continue in coming years. Future savings in hospitals are likely to be achieved only after radical shake-ups in reviews under way in many parts of the region which could see key services axed or merged.

The growing financial pressure, even on elite foundation trusts, comes as GPs prepare to take over responsibility for the bulk of NHS spending next year under the Government’s controversial reforms.

Among those trusts which failed to hit savings targets in 2011-12 are the Mid Yorkshire trust which will be nearly £20m in deficit.

Other organisations expected to miss original savings targets include the Hull and East Yorkshire, Scarborough, Barnsley, Bradford, Sheffield Children’s Hospital and South Tees trusts.

Significant numbers of trusts carried out more operations and treated more emergency patients than expected despite measures to reduce demand for hospital care which will become increasingly critical in years to come.

Health services in North Yorkshire, which have long suffered serious financial difficulties, are expected to break even but only after receiving extra funding worth around £23m.

The Yorkshire Post calculates eight of the region’s trusts face tougher savings targets in the year ahead, with the Rotherham trust, which announced plans for 30 more redundancies earlier this month, believed to be facing the hardest challenge to achieve savings of around seven per cent, worth £15m, from its budget.

David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “These figures show just how tough NHS trusts are finding it to make savings and changes to local services without impacting on patient care.

“The rising costs of technology and the increased pressure on services as a result of our increasingly ageing population means we are going to have go faster and harder with our savings plans in the coming years if we are to cope with future demands. In many ways, the really difficult decisions are yet to come.

“NHS trusts need to be open with the public about the impact their planned savings programmes will have on services.

“In some cases it may mean closing some local services or merging others to concentrate healthcare expertise. This won’t be easy, but it will be necessary if we are to continue to provide a high standard of care with less money in the future.”

Leeds GP Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “The main concern is that the NHS has plucked the low-hanging fruit when it comes to cost savings and these will be much more challenging in coming years.

“We cannot just cut our way out - it will mean doing things differently. It will involve difficult decisions and what we have to do is get much better in involving patients in that process.”