BOROUGH hospital bosses say they are facing a £6.7million deficit despite introducing a raft of cost-cutting measures to cope with budget pressures.
Dudley North MP Ian Austin was horrified to hear the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust had slipped £1.38million into the red in quarter three of the last financial year – and now trust bosses have admitted their plan for 2014/15 shows a £6.7million shortfall.
Paula Clark, Dudley Group chief executive, said: “In common with all trusts in England, we are under extreme financial pressures against the backdrop of a budget freeze for the past four years and a requirement to make four percent efficiency savings, year on year, which equates to £10 to £12 million. The money we get paid for treatments and procedures is also reducing.
“We have also experienced an increased demand on our services, higher pension costs and we are losing £6million, across 2014/15 and 2015/16, to the Better Care Fund which aims to reduce the number of patients using our emergency services.”
She said a national shortage of qualified nurses had also forced the trust to invest heavily in recruiting more nurses from overseas and to employ agency staff at premium rates to “maintain safe levels of nursing care” and trust board papers for May said agency spending was “at unprecedented levels”.
Labour MP Mr Austin says he has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, calling for Dudley’s hospitals to get the resources they need to tackle increasing waiting lists and queues at A&E.
He said: “I’m really concerned by the news that Dudley hospitals are going deeper into debt.
“Doctors, nurses and other staff are working flat out at Russells Hall but the government has squandered £3billion on reorganising the NHS instead of supporting front-line staff.
“As a result, local people are facing longer waits at A&E, cancelled operations at their highest level for a decade and waits for vital cancer tests and treatments increasing too. The Tories need to get a grip on their finances and give hospitals the resources they need.”
Natasha Millward, Labour’s candidate for Dudley South, added: “Dudley and other hospitals are operating under a relentless financial squeeze. In overstretched hospitals, standards of care are at risk. Patient care is going backwards."
Dudley Group bosses say they have introduced and are working on an array of measures to help balance the books.
Ms Clark said: “For example we have introduced a text messaging service to reduce the number of outpatients who fail to turn up for their appointments.
“We are also introducing a triage system to ensure outpatients go to the most appropriate place for treatment, and we're aiming to reduce the number of unnecessary follow up appointments.
“We have plans in place to reduce the number of unnecessary admissions and to ensure inpatients leave hospital as soon as they are medically fit to make way for other patients who need a hospital bed.”
The trust ended the 2013/14 financial year with a small operating surplus of £350,000 but the 2014/15 figures look bleak with the trust's financial plan showing a predicted £6.7million deficit.
However Ms Clark said: “We hope the measures we have put in place will help bring the books back into balance by 2015/16.”
Dudley South Conservative MP Chris Kelly said of the situation: "Trusts are being given intensive support to confront under-performance and failure in a way the last Government completely failed to do.
"What I am focused on is ensuring local people get the standard of service they deserve."