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Saturday, 27 December 2014

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NHS in Cumbria facing tough decisions in 2013, says health chief

One of Cumbria’s most senior health managers says 2013 will be a crucial year for the county’s NHS – offering a chance to sort out long-standing problems once and for all.

Stephen Dalton photo
Stephen Dalton

But Stephen Dalton warns that some tough decisions will have to be made as the overall funding pot shrinks and more people live longer.

His trust, the Cumbria Partnership – which runs community and mental health services – had been bidding to take over north Cumbria’s debt-stricken hospitals.

Although it missed out to Northumbria Healthcare, Mr Dalton believes his vision of uniting all of the county’s health services is not lost. He has recently met Northumbrian chief executive Jim Mackey and said they are already discussing ways they can work together when the takeover goes through.

Mr Dalton said with so many changes to the local NHS on the way – including GPs taking control of the purse strings and new hospital managers on the way – the county has a unique chance to make key long term changes.

“This is all moving in the right direction but I do think it’s a crucial year.

“Look at the turmoil we’ve had in both Morecambe Bay and North Cumbria and new leadership arrangements, which are changing the nature of commissioning in Cumbria. If we do not realise the opportunity in that, starting next year, we will be back to square one,” he warned.

Mr Dalton spoke exclusively to the News & Star during his own trust’s annual members meeting, held at Lillyhall, near Workington, yesterday.

He and fellow directors gave a presentation about the past financial year, which saw it take over full running of community health services and cottage hospitals. It means the Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust is one of the county’s biggest providers of healthcare.

Although overall income has gone up as a result,bosses warned that the trust’s funding will be affected by national NHS cuts each year.

As a result Mr Dalton said that he is constantly having to his ask staff to do more with fewer resources – something he admits is becoming more difficult every year.

But he accepts that is the case for all trusts, which is why he believes it is crucial bosses in Cumbria start to break down barriers and work more closely together.

“Whether it’s with the county council, Morecambe Bay or North Cumbria, what’s important is that we maximise available resources. Everyone is feeling the pinch, yet the expectation and demand for health services isn’t slowing down. In the short term we probably can be more efficient and have been pretty successful at it so far, but it’s getting harder all the time,” he said.

Instead Mr Dalton wants to see doctors and medical staff influencing change, taking the lead from the public on what local priorities should be.

He said patients aren’t bothered about where the funding comes from, as long as they are getting the care they need. That is why he wants bosses to start thinking along the same lines, so they are no longer fighting over who funds what but working together.

“We need to find ways of worrying less about who’s paying for it and more about making sure that each patient’s experience is a good one.

“We also have to be honest with the public. These are choices we should not be making on our own,” he said.

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