Trust criticised for £23m ‘bail-out’

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THE NORTHERN Health Trust has had its knuckles rapped for needing a £23m ‘bail out’ to break even.

The beleaguered Trust which has faced huge criticism for closing the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt was told it could make greater savings, particularly at management level.

In a wide-raging report the Northern Ireland Audit Office probed all the health trusts in Northern Ireland and found the Northern Trust and the Belfast Trust the only two which had to be ‘bailed out’ by the Department of Health.

The report reveals that management costs in the trusts are now £18m higher in cash terms than before the Review of Public Administration which was aimed at cutting costs.

Even when they are adjusted to take issues like inflation into account, they are still £600,000 higher than in 2007.

The Audit Office said it would have welcomed greater savings. But the department said these could not have been made.

The report said two trusts had to be “bailed out”. In 2009, Belfast needed £10.6m while by 2010 the Northern Trust needed an extra £23m.

“The fact that two trusts have had to be given additional funding of approximately £35 million over the past two years is unusual for Northern Ireland,” said the report.

The NI Audit Office report said: “Two Trusts (Belfast and Northern Trust) required additional funding of £28 million to “break even” in 2009-10. In 2010-11 the Northern Trust required additional funding of £6 million.

“The HSC (Health and Social Care) sector needs to continue to have a sharp focus on managing available resources more effectively so that it can live within its means,” said the report.

“Management costs in 2010-11 were £125 million. This is £17.9 million (17 per cent) above the costs incurred in 2006-07, the final year before the Review of Public Administration reforms.

It revealed that if management costs were ‘rebased’ to factor in inflation and other issues there could be savings of £17.3m.

“ We would have expected greater savings to have been achieved in management and administration costs across the HSC sector,” said the report.

Furthermore waiting lists have increased sharply according to the report.

In 2008, the Public Accounts Committee identified that the success in tackling waiting lists was, at least in part, due to funding additional treatments in private clinics which it warned could be unsustainable.

The Northern Trust has faced a barrage of complaints in relation to waiting times, particularly at Antrim Hospital which has had to take the majority of those patients who would normally have travelled to the Mid Ulster Hospital.

And there was further criticism following the recent Public Inquiry into the Clostridium Difficile (C Difficile) infection in Northern Trust Hospitals

The inquiry recognised the additional risk to patient safety and quality of care arising at times of organisation change.

However the report added: “Measures to improve efficiency must be considered in the context of their impact on the control environment.”