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Thursday, 31 July 2014

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Financial issues delay takeover of north Cumbria's hospitals

The takeover of north Cumbria’s cash-strapped hospitals has been delayed after a worsening of their financial performance.

Mike Little photo
Mike Little

Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust had been poised to take over the trust, which runs the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, early next year.

All was going ahead as planned until a routine update report to the North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust board (NCUH) was thrown out for being “out of date”.

The News & Star later learned there had been major hold-ups – and the final approvals required will not be completed in time for the official acquisition date of April 1, 2013. While hospital bosses have not clarified what the exact problems are, Jim Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said “significant deterioration” in north Cumbria’s finances played a part.

NCUH would not explain how or why the situation had worsened, but stated “categorically” the acquisition was still going ahead.

NHS chiefs have now confirmed they will be extending the current “interim management arrangements” – understood to include Ann Farrar’s role as interim chief executive – to tide it over.

Mr Mackey said while he was “disappointed” at the setback after the work that had gone into the acquisition, the move was necessary to follow “the strict and appropriate process”.

“We have encountered several frustrating and unhelpful delays since the acquisition process started in April 2011,” he added, “and our rigorous due diligence process has highlighted a significant deterioration in North Cumbria’s financial performance over the summer months.

“Since interim management arrangements were put in place in mid-September, we have been working hard to repair this damage as best we can before the acquisition is complete.

“We remain fully committed to the acquisition and will continue to work very closely with colleagues in North Cumbria to ensure work progresses as swiftly as possible.”

Mike Little, chairman at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, echoed Mr Mackey’s views, but said the delay was “vitally important” to ensure everything went ahead in line with Government regulations.

“We will continue to work together to meet all of the necessary regulatory approvals over the comings months,” he said.

“In the meantime, our focus remains absolutely clear as we deal with the here and now and progress immediate work to improve quality and safety by building on what we do well to deliver the best possible outcomes for our patients.”

The news has been met with shock by Carlisle MP John Stevenson. He admitted that he had not been aware of any delays, and was “hugely disappointed”.

While Mr Stevenson insisted he still believed the acquisition by Northumbria was the best move forward for the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals, he said questions need to be answered. “I would like to know exactly what have been the issues,” Mr Stevenson said. “While I accept that the regulatory rules must be followed and it must be correctly done, we should know what the issues are.

“Why have the finances deteriorated? What are the financial issues? Why are the regulatory authorities delaying their approval?

“There must be some issues that have not actually been disclosed, and that would be my concern.”

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