Yorkshire health chiefs abandon emergency £14m cuts despite pressure from NHS leaders

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HEALTH chiefs have been forced to abandon controversial plans for an emergency package of NHS cuts worth nearly £14 million in the region.

No agreement could be reached on a series of measures to urgently reduce spending on services in North Yorkshire which are among the worst hit in the financial crisis engulfing the health service.

The breakdown came despite heavy pressure from national NHS leaders to cut overall costs amid accusations services covering 500,000 people in the Vale of York, Scarborough and Ryedale are “substantially overspending their fair share of NHS funding”

Officials have instead been ordered to find alternatives as financial problems deepen in the area, forcing bosses at York Teaching Hospital NHS trust to apply for the first time in its history for an emergency cash loan to pay its bills.

The difficulties come as pressure grows on Chancellor Philip Hammond to pump more money into the NHS in next week’s Budget in the wake of warnings the crisis risks damaging patient care.

The savings in North Yorkshire had focused heavily on restricting access to routine hospital care, triggering criticism patients’ legal rights to treatment could be breached.

But health leaders failed to reach common ground and are now discussing other measures. A reconfiguration of hospital services is likely in the longer term.

Coun Jim Clark, chairman of North Yorkshire Council’s health scrutiny committee, said the decision left local people “in limbo”.

“It’s very disappointing they’ve not been able to agree a way forward,” he said.

“It doesn’t look like they’re making any progress with finances at all.”

Sian Balsom, manager of patient group Healthwatch York, which spoke out against the original cuts, said it remained unclear what impact new measures would have on patient care.

“If it means maintaining the quality of care whilst reducing expenditure, we would welcome that, but until we know what that looks like for people, we would have a great deal of concern,” she said.

Difficulties imposing similar cuts in 14 areas under NHS England’s “capped expenditure process” have also emerged amid private criticism from managers the measures are “unrealistic” in the face of an unprecedented squeeze on funding and soaring demand for treatment.

Phillippa Hentsch, head of analysis at NHS Providers which represents NHS trusts, said they were already working flat out to make savings and ensure patients receive safe, high-quality care.

“The additional savings required within the capped expenditure process could only be realistically achieved by cutting or re-configuring services in ways that are neither realistic nor reasonable,” she said.

“We cannot expect NHS providers to stop delivering treatment that the public would expect without a full and open debate about what the health service can deliver with the money available.

“Ahead of the Budget, we urge the chancellor to tackle the real underlying problem – which is the gap between what the NHS is being asked to deliver and the funding available.”

Latest figures show the York trust’s forecast deficit has grown to £17m for 2017-18 as it implements £23m in efficiency savings.

Shortages of doctors and nurses have driven up costs of temporary staff and it is also facing pressures from the additional cost of providing services at Scarborough’s hospital.

In a statement, Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the capped expenditure process remained in place and it continued to work with partners to cut overall costs of healthcare.

“The CCG has an improved financial position compared to last year, however the requirements for further financial efficiencies are challenging and the CCG is continuing to pursue further opportunities to reduce costs.”

Controversial savings measures have already been imposed in the area including temporary bans on obese patients and smokers undergoing routine surgery which are due to save £3m in the Vale of York in the 12 months to March.

Health service leaders have claimed an extra £4 billion a year is needed to deal with demand for care nationally.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens last week called on politicians to honour Brexit cash promises of an extra £350m a week for the health service, warning five million people will be on waiting lists by 2021 unless new funding is found.