Staff at the Whittington Hospital have been sent letters explaining the financial challenges
Published: 4 June, 2015
By TOM FOOT
CAMPAIGNERS who twice saved the Whittington from destruction are gearing up for another battle after hospital chiefs announced plans for unprecedented cutbacks.
The Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) said it was closely monitoring the Highgate NHS Trust after the board reported a huge black hole in its finances yesterday (Wednesday).
Chief executive Simon Pleydell took the unusual step this week of writing a personal letter to all 4,000 staff warning of an urgent need to tackle its worst-ever deficit – £19.5million for 2015/16.
The figure – up from £7.5million last year – was described as a “significant financial risk” at the board meeting yesterday where a plan to make £16.5million of cuts in a single year was approved.
The detail of where the axe will fall is still being decided but the meeting heard how the work done so far behind closed doors “did not pull any punches” and that the cuts would spread across all avenues of “expenditure” – from emergency care, workforce, buildings to corporate projects.
Shirley Franklin, chairwoman of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, said: “The Tories are making cuts, whatever they say, and they are doing it immediately after getting elected. What we need is our hospitals to stand up and fight against it.”
She added that the DWHC, which has thousands of followers, would fight in particular any cuts to “acute care” or the emergency department, adding: “We need a fully functioning hospital with a fully functioning A&E.”
Insiders at the hospital have suggested that the timing of the doomsday warnings is significant – two months into the new financial year – and are evidence of a nationwide “scandal” where an NHS funding crisis was kept under wraps in the build-up to the general election.
Board members are due to meet with MPs and NHS regulators today (Thursday) to discuss the problems.
At the meeting, Mr Pleydell said: “There is no doubt about it that a £19.5million planned deficit is not where we want to be. Over two to three years’ timescale we will get back into sustainable financial balance. For the future of this organisation, we have to have a realistic plan.”
In Mr Pleydell’s letter he reassured his staff that “despite the scale, I believe we can succeed in bringing the organisation back to financial stability”.
Outgoing interim finance chief Colin Gentile said that cuts would not be approved if the board believed they would have a “detrimental impact” on patient care, adding that the announcement should be “a real turning point for the Trust”.
Tim Rice, one of the non-executive directors tasked with holding the board to account, said the hospital needed to be in “chin-up mode” and that the deficit could be overturned.
Hospital chairman Steve Hitchins said: “You have to remember that this is peanuts compared to what the local authorities are dealing with.”
Mr Gentile is being replaced by Stephen Bloomer in the chief finance officer role after he moved from Bart’s NHS Trust, which has been in financial turmoil for years, and has reported its largest ever deficit of £80million, almost twice as much as anticipated.
To put the Whittington’s woes into context, the Royal Free and UCH – which have hugely bigger budgets – have deficits of £4.9million and £14.9million respectively.