Epsom and St Helier hospitals referred to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over financial concerns

Epsom and St Helier hospitals referred to Health Secretary over financial concerns

Epsom and St Helier hospitals have been referred to Jeremy Hunt due to their finances

Epsom and St Helier hospitals have been referred to Jeremy Hunt due to their finances

First published in News
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Wimbledon Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief reporter

Epsom and St Helier hospital trust has been referred to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt after auditors raised concerns over the state of its finances.

The Audit Commission has referred 19 trusts to Mr Hunt after reviewing 98 trusts running hospital, ambulance and community services.

Epsom and St Helier has been referred as the Commission found it failed to break even in 2013-14 and believes it does not have vigorous plans in place to balance its books in the near future.

The hospitals ended 2013-14 with a deficit of £7.4million. 

The Commission had concerns about one-third of the trusts it reviewed, although the 19 which have been referred for greater scrutiny are those with the most pressing financial problems. 

Epsom and St Helier hospital trust has not yet responded to this newspaper’s request for a response to the Commission’s findings or details about its financial situation.

But Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington, said: "The Trust's position is well-known.  

"In recent years it has been operating at a deficit.

"But the deficit is reducing year on year and the Trust is on track to make a surplus next year. 

"With both recovering finances and good quality health care, the Trust's future is not in doubt."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it understood the financial challenges faced by some trusts, but by "making tough economic decisions" it has been able to increase the NHS's budget by £12.7billion over the course of this parliament. 

She added: "It is essential that Trust CEOs have a tight financial grip and ensure they live within their means."

The Audit Commission only examined in-depth those trusts which have not achieved foundation trusts status.  Those trusts which have been awarded foundation status have achieved a significant degree of managerial and financial independence from the Department of Health, compared to other hospital trusts.

Following publication of this article, Chrisha Alagaratnam, Epsom and St Helier hospital trust's chief executive, issued this statement: "We have made incredible strides in improving patient care while closing our financial gap, and are currently forecasting to break even at the end of this financial year.

"We have been entirely transparent and open about our challenging financial position and recognise that the Audit Commission have a statutory responsibility to formally notify the Secretary of State regarding NHS trusts who have posted an aggregate deficit in the last three years.  

"It is important to note that in referring this matter to the Secretary of State, the Audit Commission recognised that our Trust has reported a significantly improved financial position for 2013-14 in our draft accounts and have submitted a break even plan for the current year.  

"In addition, our break even plan has been accepted by the NHS Trust Development Authority, the organisation that oversees all non-Foundation trusts.

"I would like to assure all of our patients, visitors and staff that we do have a robust plan in place to balance the books at the end of the year.  

"I am proud of just how far our organisation has come in the past three years, thanks to the hard work and determination of all our staff and volunteers.

"For example, we perform very strongly in A&E, our results in the highly regarded Dr Foster Hospital guide have shown that we’re a very safe organisation - with consistently lower death rates than expected, and our maternity units have grown in popularity and size over the past three years.

"Put simply, we are bucking the trend in that our clinical quality continues to improve, as does our financial outlook."

Speaking to the Epsom Guardian, Chris Grayling, MP for Epsom and Ewell, said he does not think people should be concerned about the trust's referral to Mr Hunt.  

He said: "I have watched how the hospitals have improved over the last three years, they are on the mend financially and the deficit has improved massively.  

"The trust has a budget in which it has planned to break even this year.  

"I don't think there's a sense that there is a short-term financial threat to Epsom Hospital because of the financial position of the trust.

"It's a hospital that has got to grips with its financial problems and this doesn't truly reflect the improvements that have taken place.  

"It is an accounting technicality.  The Commission's findings covered a problem period for the trust but we are now at the end of the problem period.

"The Trust is now moving towards applying for Foundation Trust status."

Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Burstow added: "Everyone at St Helier has worked hard to turn the trusts finances around.

"The referral is a setback but should obscure the obscure the fact that the Trust's financial health is improving.

"What is remarkable about St Helier is how resilient it is.

"Despite all the difficulties it has maintain grip on clinical quality and improved.

"The Trust is posting a break-even and the is moving into the black."

What do you think?  Leave a comment below.

Comments (9)

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7:07pm Thu 24 Jul 14

David7 says...

Tom Brake is, frankly, talking out of his backside.

The Audit Commission report was clear – the 19 referred hospitals could not convince the auditors that they could return to the black in the medium term. These were the WORST cases of the 98 troubled trusts that were looked at, as this report explains very well.

So does Mr Brake know something more than the auditors, or does he have a better understanding of hospital finances than they do? I doubt it. The independent Audit Commission is clear – it does not believe the Trust will be running at a surplus, as Mr Brake does.

He really must, as a matter of urgency, explain the facts he knows that will see the Trust in the black next year, and he should also pass this information to the Audit Commission – which he is clearly implying are 100% wrong in their assessment.

Mr Brake voted for Clause 119 which Health Secretary Hunt can use for exactly this situation – to unilaterally close down or apply emergency sanctions action against poorly-performing hospitals without any form of consultation.

Personally I believe Mr Brake and his mates at Sutton Council know exactly what is going on. Despite their high-profile campaigns against closure or downgrading, they privately know it will happen.

Look at their sneaky Healthwatch meeting last week, hijacking for political purposes a supposedly public meeting, and vetting the questions. They are already trying to control the agenda – but the Audit Commission has put rather a large spanner in the works.

Brake & co will not admit closure or downgrading is likely it until AFTER the 2015 General Election, when Mr Brake will hope to have already been returned to power on the back of his campaign.

Then he can blame the new incoming government for closing down or downgrading St Helier, with the same kind of u-turn as the LibDems managed on student fees.

Remember, Mr Brake is currently part of the Government, a minister no less. He is walking a very thin line – and I do not believe he can back up his statement that the Trust will be in the black next year.

It’s time Mr Brake’s doublespeak was exposed for what it is. He is claiming black is white. It is not.
Tom Brake is, frankly, talking out of his backside. The Audit Commission report was clear – the 19 referred hospitals could not convince the auditors that they could return to the black in the medium term. These were the WORST cases of the 98 troubled trusts that were looked at, as this report explains very well. So does Mr Brake know something more than the auditors, or does he have a better understanding of hospital finances than they do? I doubt it. The independent Audit Commission is clear – it does not believe the Trust will be running at a surplus, as Mr Brake does. He really must, as a matter of urgency, explain the facts he knows that will see the Trust in the black next year, and he should also pass this information to the Audit Commission – which he is clearly implying are 100% wrong in their assessment. Mr Brake voted for Clause 119 which Health Secretary Hunt can use for exactly this situation – to unilaterally close down or apply emergency sanctions action against poorly-performing hospitals without any form of consultation. Personally I believe Mr Brake and his mates at Sutton Council know exactly what is going on. Despite their high-profile campaigns against closure or downgrading, they privately know it will happen. Look at their sneaky Healthwatch meeting last week, hijacking for political purposes a supposedly public meeting, and vetting the questions. They are already trying to control the agenda – but the Audit Commission has put rather a large spanner in the works. Brake & co will not admit closure or downgrading is likely it until AFTER the 2015 General Election, when Mr Brake will hope to have already been returned to power on the back of his campaign. Then he can blame the new incoming government for closing down or downgrading St Helier, with the same kind of u-turn as the LibDems managed on student fees. Remember, Mr Brake is currently part of the Government, a minister no less. He is walking a very thin line – and I do not believe he can back up his statement that the Trust will be in the black next year. It’s time Mr Brake’s doublespeak was exposed for what it is. He is claiming black is white. It is not. David7
  • Score: 38

10:22pm Thu 24 Jul 14

mrsjanerace says...

I had a very positive meeting with the new finance director of Epsom and St Helier recently and he was convinced the Trust will break even at the end of the financial year. Epsom Hospital is much busier as some services have expanded and some community work has been moved back into the hospitals. Things are looking much more promising than they have for some time. No doubt Jeremy Hunt's department will look at what The Trust expect to happen in the near future and take this into account when viewing the figures.

Jane Race
I had a very positive meeting with the new finance director of Epsom and St Helier recently and he was convinced the Trust will break even at the end of the financial year. Epsom Hospital is much busier as some services have expanded and some community work has been moved back into the hospitals. Things are looking much more promising than they have for some time. No doubt Jeremy Hunt's department will look at what The Trust expect to happen in the near future and take this into account when viewing the figures. Jane Race mrsjanerace
  • Score: 1

11:31pm Thu 24 Jul 14

David7 says...

mrsjanerace wrote:
I had a very positive meeting with the new finance director of Epsom and St Helier recently and he was convinced the Trust will break even at the end of the financial year. Epsom Hospital is much busier as some services have expanded and some community work has been moved back into the hospitals. Things are looking much more promising than they have for some time. No doubt Jeremy Hunt's department will look at what The Trust expect to happen in the near future and take this into account when viewing the figures.

Jane Race
It’s possibly a bit of an imbalance to weigh a lengthy and detailed Audit Commission report against a meeting with the freshly-installed finance director who has ‘positive’ vibes... however...

Jane, you’re on the Save Epsom Hospital steering group and linked to Healthwatch, so what are the hard facts for the Trust breaking even? Where’s the evidence?

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, Jane, but given that every single financial projection and promise of investment relating to these hospitals over the last few years has failed to materialise, I still suspect we’re being sold a pup.

I want my excellent local hospitals to stay open and to continue to serve people as they do. They are brilliant hospitals, run by brilliant and dedicated people. But I have a desperate feeling that, behind the doors of power, the die is already cast. Call it CCG or whatever you like, those in power will use whatever means they can to get their way, even if Clause 119 is needed.

A cynic might say the Audit Commission has done the Government’s bidding by referring the troublesome authorities to the Health Secretary who can invoke Clause 119. But that would be most mischievous.

I’m also tempted to say that anyone believing local opinion will be genuinely considered in local health provision needs their head looking at.

Sadly, there soon may not be a local hospital where your head CAN be looked at. You’ll have to get on a bus to Tooting.
[quote][p][bold]mrsjanerace[/bold] wrote: I had a very positive meeting with the new finance director of Epsom and St Helier recently and he was convinced the Trust will break even at the end of the financial year. Epsom Hospital is much busier as some services have expanded and some community work has been moved back into the hospitals. Things are looking much more promising than they have for some time. No doubt Jeremy Hunt's department will look at what The Trust expect to happen in the near future and take this into account when viewing the figures. Jane Race[/p][/quote]It’s possibly a bit of an imbalance to weigh a lengthy and detailed Audit Commission report against a meeting with the freshly-installed finance director who has ‘positive’ vibes... however... Jane, you’re on the Save Epsom Hospital steering group and linked to Healthwatch, so what are the hard facts for the Trust breaking even? Where’s the evidence? I sincerely hope I’m wrong, Jane, but given that every single financial projection and promise of investment relating to these hospitals over the last few years has failed to materialise, I still suspect we’re being sold a pup. I want my excellent local hospitals to stay open and to continue to serve people as they do. They are brilliant hospitals, run by brilliant and dedicated people. But I have a desperate feeling that, behind the doors of power, the die is already cast. Call it CCG or whatever you like, those in power will use whatever means they can to get their way, even if Clause 119 is needed. A cynic might say the Audit Commission has done the Government’s bidding by referring the troublesome authorities to the Health Secretary who can invoke Clause 119. But that would be most mischievous. I’m also tempted to say that anyone believing local opinion will be genuinely considered in local health provision needs their head looking at. Sadly, there soon may not be a local hospital where your head CAN be looked at. You’ll have to get on a bus to Tooting. David7
  • Score: 22

10:00am Fri 25 Jul 14

&anotherthing says...

Perhaps they should borrow Kingston Hospital's CEO for 3 years as there may well be lessons learnt from experience at that local hospital over the last 5/6 years that could make all the difference for their survival. It's far from perfect but has managed to at least stay financial viable inspite of all the difficulties...... Lets hope Tom Brake MP knows something from internal discussions as the alternative doesn't bear thinking about!
Perhaps they should borrow Kingston Hospital's CEO for 3 years as there may well be lessons learnt from experience at that local hospital over the last 5/6 years that could make all the difference for their survival. It's far from perfect but has managed to at least stay financial viable inspite of all the difficulties...... Lets hope Tom Brake MP knows something from internal discussions as the alternative doesn't bear thinking about! &anotherthing
  • Score: 9

11:42am Fri 25 Jul 14

LiberalsOut says...

Dont forget Tom Brake and Paul Burstow both voted for the legislation that would give the Health Secretary powers to close a Hospital without consultation
Dont forget Tom Brake and Paul Burstow both voted for the legislation that would give the Health Secretary powers to close a Hospital without consultation LiberalsOut
  • Score: 8

2:07pm Fri 25 Jul 14

Emily_Brothers says...

The bottom line is that the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition is stifling NHS resources. Instead of developing health services that co-operate as a network, the Coalition has introduced a competition framework. Paul Burstow was a Health Minister at the time of the internal market being established. It will lead towards greater privatisation. This will be fuelled by the targeting of some hospitals, identified here for starters by the Audit Commission with their assessment of 98 hospitals. ST Helier is amongst the 19 referral to the Secretary of State, providing a clear opportunity for them to move along the pathway that may well reach Paul Burstow’s trap – the Hospital Closure Clause that he is so closely associated. The challenge is not only to lobby, but also to find ways of promoting ST Helier Hospital as a valued and essential community resource. That’s why I wrote to Chrish Alagratnam yesterday upon the release of the Audit Commission report. I’m keen to know more behind the broadbrush comments that have been published and how Labour locally can help. As for Paul Burstow’s claims that everything is okay, we know from the past that doesn’t usually get anywhere. I find his complacency very worrying and that’s why Labour will continue to stay with the case.
The bottom line is that the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition is stifling NHS resources. Instead of developing health services that co-operate as a network, the Coalition has introduced a competition framework. Paul Burstow was a Health Minister at the time of the internal market being established. It will lead towards greater privatisation. This will be fuelled by the targeting of some hospitals, identified here for starters by the Audit Commission with their assessment of 98 hospitals. ST Helier is amongst the 19 referral to the Secretary of State, providing a clear opportunity for them to move along the pathway that may well reach Paul Burstow’s trap – the Hospital Closure Clause that he is so closely associated. The challenge is not only to lobby, but also to find ways of promoting ST Helier Hospital as a valued and essential community resource. That’s why I wrote to Chrish Alagratnam yesterday upon the release of the Audit Commission report. I’m keen to know more behind the broadbrush comments that have been published and how Labour locally can help. As for Paul Burstow’s claims that everything is okay, we know from the past that doesn’t usually get anywhere. I find his complacency very worrying and that’s why Labour will continue to stay with the case. Emily_Brothers
  • Score: 5

9:48am Thu 31 Jul 14

Georgia Lewis says...

We really need hard evidence from the trust in regard to their figures when they keep telling the public all will be well and they will break even. This needs to be published in the media as well as prominently displayed on trust websites. At Tom Brake's farcical Save St Helier meeting in Wallington, there was no evidence that the trust was about to be referred to the Health Secretary based on what Chrisha Alagaratnam told us. Thus, it was a shock when this news broke.

Rather than believing faceless bureaucrats, we need cold, hard figures made public ASAP.
We really need hard evidence from the trust in regard to their figures when they keep telling the public all will be well and they will break even. This needs to be published in the media as well as prominently displayed on trust websites. At Tom Brake's farcical Save St Helier meeting in Wallington, there was no evidence that the trust was about to be referred to the Health Secretary based on what Chrisha Alagaratnam told us. Thus, it was a shock when this news broke. Rather than believing faceless bureaucrats, we need cold, hard figures made public ASAP. Georgia Lewis
  • Score: 5

4:42pm Thu 31 Jul 14

Pippa Maslin says...

Gosh! So many brilliant comments on here! All I'd like to add is that I moved to Merton last summer and, in the space of a year, have seen the promise of a £219m investment in St Helier Hospital essentially replaced by this worrying referral to Hunt. I have gone from looking forward to seeing my local hospital go from strength to strength, to seeing my local hospital in grave danger. I am glad to read of Chrisha Alagaratnam's positivity, but Brake, Grayling and Burstow, why the devil should I believe what you say? This coalition promised that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, but a top-down reorganisation of the NHS is precisely what the Health and Social Care of 2012 is.
Gosh! So many brilliant comments on here! All I'd like to add is that I moved to Merton last summer and, in the space of a year, have seen the promise of a £219m investment in St Helier Hospital essentially replaced by this worrying referral to Hunt. I have gone from looking forward to seeing my local hospital go from strength to strength, to seeing my local hospital in grave danger. I am glad to read of Chrisha Alagaratnam's positivity, but Brake, Grayling and Burstow, why the devil should I believe what you say? This coalition promised that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, but a top-down reorganisation of the NHS is precisely what the Health and Social Care of 2012 is. Pippa Maslin
  • Score: 2

4:53pm Thu 31 Jul 14

Pippa Maslin says...

*Health and Social Care Act*
*Health and Social Care Act* Pippa Maslin
  • Score: 1

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