Merger between Whiston, St Helens and Warrington Hospitals suggested to solve PFI crisis (From St Helens Star)
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Merger between Whiston, St Helens and Warrington Hospitals suggested to solve PFI crisis
LABOUR politicians and unions will fiercely oppose any proposals to solve an NHS funding crisis by merging Whiston and St Helens hospitals with neighbouring Warrington.
Renewed fears over the future of local healthcare caused by immense financial pressures emerged at an open board meeting of St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust yesterday.
Funding has still not been released by the Government to plug a budget black hole in the £42m annual repayment bill for the private finance initiative that funded the £350m hospitals’ construction.
If the crisis is not resolved it would make it impossible for hospital chiefs to confidently draw up budgets to balance the books in future years.
The current shortfall, which stands at £20m a year, would severely jeopardise its plans to achieve foundation status, which the Government has said all NHS hospital trusts must achieve by 2014.
Trust chairman, Les Howell, revealed the financial insecurity had led NHS bosses in the North of England to commission experts from Imperial College Health Care to review how St Helens and Knowsley could confidently become a foundation hospital.
Among the report’s conclusions, which suggested the board is “unclear about its strategy” were that: “The financial challenge is considerable and the Trust will find it increasingly difficult to be authorised as an FT in its current form.
However, the report adds: “There is a 21st century facility which is being paid for by the state in an area of high social deprivation and the use of the facility must be maximised.”
The review, which followed a two day visit to the hospitals in March, adds that the chief executive of Warrington Hospital would be keen to discuss in more detail about working more closely with Whiston and St Helens Hospitals, “including the concept of a merger”.
The authors’ recommend the board explores collaborating or merging with other hospitals, changing management structures or changing the services it offers.
Present in the public gallery at the meeting were local politicians and union representatives, who led a campaign last year after fears the PFI funding crisis would lead to the hospitals, which boast world class facilities, being transferred to the private sector.
Marie Rimmer, the leader of the council, argued that “obstacle after obstacle” was been placed in front of the hospitals as they tried to find a solution.
She said: “We will do everything we can to save our hospitals for our community.”
The Department of Health said last month that a small number of trusts, including St Helens and Knowsley, could have access to further financial support for PFIs providing they pass four key tests to prove they are clinically and financially viable for the future.
These are: The problems they face should be exceptional and beyond those faced by other organisations.
They must be able to show that the problems they face are historic and that they have a clear plan to manage their resources in the future.
They must show that they are delivering high levels of annual productivity savings.
They must deliver clinically viable, high quality services, including delivering low waiting times and other performance measures.