Three months ago, when I first drew the plight of Bedford Hospital to public attention, I hoped that by doing so I would encourage debate on the very real challenges that the NHS faces locally. I also thought that we might get some action that would give us optimism for the future of the hospital.
Sadly, the situation goes from bad to worse. Bedford Hospital’s debts are now projected to be some £12million by the end of the financial year. This sum includes a new surcharge of £500,000 which is being levied by the Eastern Regional Strategic Health Authority (SHA) as our contribution to helping out other hospitals in the region which are in an even greater financial plight. The SHA have told all Trusts in the region that balancing the books is to be the number one priority, apparently regardless of the consequences on patient care.
Currently in addition to some 100 posts that are vacant and “frozen”, one in seven of the staff are facing redundancy notices. The effect on morale can only be imagined. Four wards remain shut, and a further (surgical) ward is earmarked for closure in January. Major cuts are also being made in the budget for training our junior doctors (the specialists of the future) and educational courses that are an essential part of their training are no longer being funded. Cuts in the training budget for next year are likely to involve the salaries of four junior doctors, so these posts will also be lost.
The new financial year begins, for the NHS, appropriately enough, on 1st April, less that four months time. We know that the hospital will enter the new year with an enormous financial millstone around its neck, but to date we still have no idea what the hospital’s income will be, making it impossible to plan accordingly. What we do know it that the Department of Health are encouraging the purchasers of services to divert money away from hospitals. Locally this may well result in a further reduction of up to £5million from the hospital’s budget; the consequences of this do not bear thinking about.
Now, surely, is the time to stop playing political games with valued hospitals such as Bedford. We need a properly financed and resourced local hospital for the proper care of our local residents. It is what they deserve.