Headlines: September 27th, 2005

A grim picture of finances in National Health Service trusts is painted by the results available so far from a survey of medical directors in England. The responses so far show that three out of four NHS trusts are facing a funding shortfall and a third say they will have to reduce services because of their debt crises.Questionnaires were sent to 530 medical directors by the British Medical Association. The interim results are based on 120 responses, which show predicted shortfalls on funding ranging from a quarter of a million pounds to 25 million and an average predicted shortfall of 6.2 million pounds.

Possible service cuts thrown up by the survey include bed closures, reductions in elective services, ward closures, reductions in patient transport, the withdrawal of staff development and training and even redundancies and recruitment freezes. Any job losses or freezes on posts would involve medical staff.

More than a third of the respondents reported that funding agreements with primary care trusts had been changed at short notice in this financial year.

The BMA’s Consultants’ Committee chair, Dr Paul Miller, said it was hard to understand how when the Government had invested unprecedented funding in the NHS, Trusts might have to lay off staff and close wards. “Something is going terribly wrong when patients pay the price for these financial problems and the Government’s lack of joined-up thinking,” he said.

The BMA wants the Government to work with doctors and other health care workers to integrate the extra capacity and to improve financial and clinical management so that patients receive the best possible treatment and the best value for money. Dr, Miller added, “If the Government persists with the introduction of a market-based system for health care there must be a level playing field for all providers. It is financial madness to guarantee private providers huge volumes of work, often at a higher cost than the NHS, while NHS hospitals are deprived of essential funding and their facilities are being left idle.”