Hospital bosses in £1.4m finance probe cleared and back at work

Paul Whitehouse

TWO managers put on leave from their jobs after a 1.4m shortfall was discovered at Barnsley Hospital have been cleared and returned to work.

However senior managers at the trust have decided to switch them to other roles because their previous jobs have been absorbed into the work of a team called in to try to save money.

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That decision was taken because an external “turnaround team” brought in to examine the hospital’s work and find ways to save money, effectively took over their original jobs.

The shortfall from the theatres department at the hospital was unexpected when it was discovered and both members of staff were moved from their jobs to allow an investigation to take place.

Although they were away from work for some time earlier this year on “gardening leave”, they were not suspended.

The investigation found no blame should be apportioned to them and they have since returned to the trust, though elsewhere within the organisation.

Hospital chief executive Paul O’Conner said the shortfall was due to a variety of reasons.

They included the fact that a contract for sterilising equipment produced was reduced in value and additional work to prevent some patients needing to be re-admitted to hospital later.

When surgical patients were admitted, if it was discovered they needed more extensive – and expensive – procedures than initially anticipated the treatment was still carried out under the original referral, instead of re-booking the patient.

Doing so added unexpected costs and threw budgets beyond expected limits, though it had been regarded as preferable to treat patients immediately rather than referring them back for further treatment.

The GMB union insisted that it had warned of potential financial problems in the theatres department two years previously. At that time working arrangements were changed and the union believed the new system to be flawed. Union spokeswoman Jean Keane said the new jobs given to the two managers had not been advertised as vacant, which would be normal practice.

“We have still not been provided with the facts about what they were on gardening leave for. They are in posts which have never been advertised as being available,” she said.

Before the budget problems arose, there had been conflict between the union and the trust over decisions made by one of those managers, she added.

“One of those managers tried to bring in a transformation process, cost cutting measures which were absolutely unworkable.”

The proposals had meant some staff were expected to accept a downgrading on the pay scale, while still providing the same level of skills.

Although the surgical budget had been overspent, the Trust’s overall spending had remained within expected targets, the hospital spokeswoman added.

After the “turnaround team” was brought in, a decision was taken by a previous chief executive to extend its remit to look at other area’s of the hospital’s work.

Its work is expected to be completed in the autumn, when recommendations for cost savings will be made.

The hospital has to save money as part of a spending review across the whole NHS and it has been made clear that some jobs are expected to go. The GMB has been told the intention is to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Mr O’Conner said: “The surgery and critical care division had a planned net contribution to the overall trust financial plan for 2009/10 of 8.7m.

“However, at year end, the final contribution was 7.3m, 1.4m short of the predicted contribution.”