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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Cumbria's hospital trust facing £23m black hole

Cumbria's hospital trust is facing a £23m black hole after “squandering money on agency staff and sending papers in taxis between Carlisle and Whitehaven”.

West Cumberland Hospital photo
West Cumberland Hospital

The deficit is the third largest for any hospital trust in the UK.

Trust bosses say they are working to overcome the financial headache but one union boss says cash is being squandered – on highly paid temporary staff and inappropriate practices that include sending documents by taxi between the hospitals in Whitehaven and Carlisle.

Jenny Martin, the Carlisle-based regional organiser for the health workers union Unison, said: “We have very serious concerns about the way the trust is spending a lot of money on agency [temporary] nurses. One of our members has told us of one nurse who said that she’d earned £960 in just one week.

“Yet at the same time they’ve carried out a review which has led to nurses being downgraded from band six to band five. There have been no cuts for the pay of managers or directors.”

She said they had also been made aware that managers used taxis to travel between Carlisle and Whitehaven and “they send documents from one hospital to the other by taxi”.

“That kind of expense can’t be justified,” she said. “On the one hand they’re telling us they’re investing thousands in nursing posts, but on the other they’re hiring agency nurses and using taxis. It makes no sense.”

Mrs Martin said one of key problems for the union was what she claimed was a lack of transparency.

She added: “All of this has to put pressure on patient care. There’s only so much you can cut from the pay of low-paid staff before you start to impact on patient care.”

Research by the Health Service Journal has shown that 54 of the country’s 141 non-specialist hospital trusts are likely to end the year with deficits, with only those in north Staffordshire and Leicester finishing the year with deficits bigger than that forecast for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Department for Health sources say much of the debt has resulted from the ending of so-called “bailout” funding from strategic health authorities, which were abolished last April.

The chief executive of the Nuffield Trust said the funding of hospitals was being squeezed by the growing cost of drugs and staff, many taken on to address quality issues.

A spokeswoman for the North Cumbrian trust said: “We continue to work very closely with the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) and our ‘buddy’ trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, on a long-term recovery strategy for our hospitals which will improve both the clinical and financial sustainability of our organisation moving forward.

“We also remain focused on recruiting more permanent nursing and medical staff and reducing ouroverall reliance on locum and agency support which is currently vital in helping us to deliver safe care for our patients.”

Carlisle MP John Stevenson said: “There are clearly financial issues but we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture, which is that the North Cumbria trust has to be acquired by Northumbria Healthcare.

“That is in the interests of all patients in this part of the country. The deficit is a secondary issue.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network, said the latest figures on trust deficits showed how they were facing an “unprecedented financial challenge”.

Last year, it was reported how bosses at the North Cumbrian Trust spent £15,000 on a heart doctor for just one week’s work.

This was the equivalent of a year’s wage for some NHS staff – for example health care assistants, who support nurses in caring for patients and then started on £15,860.

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