The Government is refusing to publish in full the disturbing findings of an official report which shows the local NHS heading for a £217m deficit in the next four years, if nothing changes.
According to a leaked copy of the report - obtained by Newcastle-under-Lyme MP Paul Farrelly - the local health system 'appears to be in perpetual crisis mode', suffers from a 'generally oppressive culture' and has no 'clear long term strategy'.
Despite promising 'no more top-down re-organisations', after the 2010 general election the Government controversially reshuffled the NHS anyway, causing widespread disruption.
The report, by leading London accountants KPMG, is one of 11 commissioned last year by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt into so-called ‘distressed local health economies’ across the country, including Staffordshire.
So far, however, he has refused to publish the findings, most recently this week in response to Parliamentary Questions from Mr Farrelly. Other local MPs have received similar rebuffs, including Stoke North MP Joan Walley from David Cameron earlier this month at Prime Minister’s Questions.
With the exception of North Staffordshire and Stoke, the leaked report finds woeful co-operation between the County's new Clinical Commissioning Groups, which now buy NHS services for local people.
To tackle the £200 million plus deficit by 2018/19, inter alia, it recommends:
- Cutting back on beds and resources at North Staffs hospital, now renamed the Royal Stoke University Hospital (RSUH) – with £20m of savings leading to a 63-bed reduction.
- RSUH seconding staff to Burton hospital, which is in 'special measures', putting further pressure on North Staffs – savings would remove another 24 beds at Burton.
- Reviewing the future of Longton and Cheadle community hospitals, and a ward at Tamworth; and
- Addressing an immediate £35m gap in local CCG and hospital finances in North Staffordshire.
In one major omission, however, the KPMG report does not include the impact of RSUH taking over troubled Stafford Hospital, which will itself cost another £220m. Other major flaws include a failure to estimate the investment needed – in homecare and primary care, including GPs’ surgeries – to make planned savings possible without healthcare across the County suffering as a result.
It also treats Staffordshire as one ‘health economy’ in isolation, with extra responsibilities landing with RSUH, when other parts of the County naturally look for specialist services to Derby, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and, to the far south, Worcester.
Fundamentally, it also recommends trying to patch up the existing fragmented system, which is left after the Government’s needless re-organisation, and the operation of which it strongly criticises. Even then, however, KPMG are still forecasting a £69m gap in four years’ time, if all its proposed savings are made.
'Our hospital is already struggling valiantly to cope with problems at Stafford and with pressures on A&E, caused by cuts elsewhere, including social care and longer waits to see a GP,' Mr Farrelly said. ‘Now it's being asked to do more, with fewer resources, and without any idea of the further investment needed or where it’s coming from. This is clearly unsustainable. Labour's plan - to properly integrate health and social care - is the way forward, not the patchwork recommendations of this secret report, which finds the existing system is just not working.’
Earlier this month, Shadow Secretary of State Andy Burnham discussed Labour’s policy with the local NHS on a visit to Royal Stoke University Hospital.
The other 10 ‘distressed local health economies’, which have been identified, are next-door Eastern Cheshire, North East and South West London, Cumbria, Mid Essex, Cambridge & Peterborough, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, East Sussex and Devon.
Mr Farrelly is now urging local health chiefs to discuss their response to the KPMG report, now it is finally out in the open. He has also put down further urgent Parliamentary Questions about what is happening in all the other areas around the country.
You can read a summary and overview of the KPMG report for Staffordshire by clicking here