October 31: Financial wheel falls off the NHS

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How NOT to run hospital finances

IF JEREMY Hunt wants to understand why the National Health Service accrued a record deficit of £930m in the first three months of the financial year, he only has to look at the truly shocking financial mismanagement at two hospital trusts in Yorkshire.

Even though hospitals are beset by staff shortages, with junior doctors taking to the streets in protest to contract changes which could, they claim, endanger the safety of patients, Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has spent nearly £400,000 on the hiring of management consultant Stuart Diggles after a £10m black hole in its accounts was uncovered. His going rate – a mere £1,250 a day – means he now has the dubious distinction of being one of the most highly paid executives in the whole NHS.

If this wasn’t perturbing enough, it is even worse at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust where health regulator Monitor has been forced to launch a full-scale investigation after “inaccuracies in financial reporting” over five months led to a projected £2.2m surplus becoming a £12.6m deficit and necessitating the resignation of finance director Matthew Lowry who was previously part of the management team at Rotherham as that hospital descended into chaos.

As such, it can only be hoped that the Doncaster organisation does not follow Barnsley’s costly example and hire management gurus on exorbitant rates to get to grips with this incompetence.

The Health Service, despite its perilous financial position, is still awash with senior executives – whether it be local directors or the army of managers employed by NHS England at its headquarters in Leeds – and it simply defies belief that such a bureaucratically top heavy organisation does not have the necessary expertise to manage the accounts. After all, both of the NHS trusts concerned were previously awarded foundation status because they were deemed to be well-run organisations. If this is so, what does it say about the rest of the NHS and the amount of money that is being squandered each year? Just think of the difference that could be made to patient care if this money was actuallly being spent on frontline care. Over to you, Mr Hunt.

Full steam ahead? Osborne’s transport commitment

ON the day that three-quarters of Yorkshire people expressed scepticism over the so-called Northern Powerhouse, George Osborne tried to bring a damaging week to the end – the Chancellor has been at the centre of the tax credits controversy – by launching his new National Infrastructure Commission in York.

The principle is sound – Britain’s transport and energy infrastructure is creaking because of the failure of successive governments to take long-term decisions – and it is welcome that Mr Osborne wants to prioritise trans-Pennine road and rail links between Yorkshire and the North West during this Parliament.

Yet, while the lovingly restored locomotives at the National Railway Museum provided a symbolic backdrop days after a critical report revealed the inadequate state of the rolling stock being used on the North’s train network, Mr Osborne seemed to forget the fact that many of the proposed schemes have already been announced on several previous occasions.

Despite all the talk about the Northern Powerhouse and the new body headed by former Labour Minister Andrew Adonis, these projects will remain just that – talk – until the economy picks up and regions like Yorkshire start to receive a fairer funding settlement with the Exchequer.

SA hero of France. War hero honoured at last

SEVENTY years after his heroism helped to liberate France from the tyranny of Nazism, it is fitting that 92-year-old William Frederick Gray has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his fortitude in the face of adversity – this accolade is only awarded to the bravest of the brave and the French government deserves praise for finally acknowledging its debt to this Yorkshire veteran.

His compelling accounts of his encounters with German troops in Normandy – he was a Sherman tank driver with the 23rd Hussars –is tinged with added poignancy because of its close proximity to this year’s Remembrance commemorations.

Yet it also helps to remind younger generations about the valiant sacrifices made by their forebears and why it is the collective duty of all to pay their respects to all those who answered their country’s call to spare Europe from Hitler’s fascist dictatorship. The debt is that great.