Headlines: June 8th, 2006

Local authorities are worried about the knock-on effects of the budget deficit in the National Health Service. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt revealed that at 512 million pounds the deficit had more than doubled in the last year. Now councils are concerned about the impact on their work.The Local Government Association’s adult social care spokesman, Councillor David Rogers, said health and social care were two sides of the same coin and a financial crisis in one would have an impact on the other. “We are beginning to see some worrying examples of where budget problems are causing some NHS trusts to withdraw from joint projects, leaving local authorities to pick up the tab,” he said.

Mr. Rogers said councils wanted to work with the NHS to deliver the highest possible standards of care and there were excellent examples of where this was already happening but the difficulties being experienced by some trusts were proving to be a barrier in some areas.

“These cutbacks, which are coming at the same time as other extreme financial pressures, are forcing local authorities to make some very difficult decisions,” Mr. Rogers warned.

The unaudited figures published by the Health Secretary yesterday showed that the deficit was 100 million pounds less than a mid-year forecast and she stressed that it represented less than one per cent of the total NHS budget. She also pointed to the fact that more than two thirds of the deficit was down to just ten per cent of NHS organisations.

For health service managers, Gill Morgan the chief executive of the NHS Confederation said it would be too easy to blame individual managers when the problems were often the result of wider issues. Paul Miller, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, did accept there were failings in management. “Bad management is a problem in some places, but the biggest cause is the interference from government. Something is going badly wrong and it is demoralising for staff,” he said. Mr. Miller told a conference of senior hospital doctors that the time had come to halt policies that had failed to improve patient care but which had cost the NHS billions of pounds.