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Hospital Trusts: Deficits

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2016

Trusts reported a net deficit of £1.6 billion for the first half of this financial year, with 75% of trusts reporting a deficit, which is why, last week, we launched the Carter efficiency programme in which Lord Carter confirmed that hospitals can save £5 billion annually by making sensible improvements to procurement and staff rostering.

Almost every acute trust will be in deficit in the coming year, including Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Whiston and St Helens hospitals, which cover my constituency. The fact is that the Government have been slow in dealing with one of the causes of the deficit, which is the employment of great numbers of agency staff. They also want to cut the tariff, which is based on efficiency savings, leaving hospitals such as Whiston and St Helens, which are among the most efficient in the country, struggling to make greater efficiencies. Will the Secretary of State look at that matter again?

The hon. Gentleman should give a slightly more complete picture of what is happening in his hospitals. There are nearly 2,000 more operations every year, 7,000 more MRI scans, and 7,000 more CT scans than there were five years ago. When it comes to the issue of deficits, we are tackling the agency staff issue. That happened because trusts were responding to the Francis report into what happened in Mid Staffs. Rightly, they wanted to staff up quickly, but it needs to be done on a sustainable basis. I simply say to him that if we were putting £5.5 billion less into the NHS every year, as he stood for at the previous election, the problems would be a whole lot worse.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that running costs in the NHS, which vary from £105 to £970 per square metre per year as highlighted by Lord Carter, are wholly unacceptable, and that the concept of a model hospital to bring the worst up to the standard of the best, which was also highlighted by Lord Carter, has great merit?

My hon. Friend knows about these things from his own clinical background, and he is absolutely right. We are now doing something—it is probably the most ambitious programme anywhere in the world—to identify the costs that hospitals are paying. From April, we will be collecting the costs for the 100 most used products in the NHS for every hospital. That information will be shared. We are the biggest purchaser of healthcare equipment in the world, so we should be paying the lowest prices.

Barts Health NHS Trust, the UK’s largest hospital trust, is set to run up a £135 million deficit this year. That would be by far the greatest ever overspend in the history of the NHS. When will the Minister accept the sheer scale of the austerity-driven crisis facing the NHS?

It is stretching things a bit to call that an austerity-driven problem when, next year, we are putting in the sixth biggest increase in funding for the NHS in its entire 70-year history. There are some severe problems at Barts, but we will tackle the deficit. We also need to ensure that we improve patient safety and patient care.

The staff of the University Hospitals of North Midlands to whom my right hon. Friend entrusted the care of County Hospital in Stafford and the Royal Stoke University Hospital have done a great job both in improving the quality of care and in bringing down the deficit. Will he ensure that a long-term approach is taken to the finances of that trust so that we do not make rapid decisions that could result in difficult situations in the future?

As ever, my hon. Friend speaks very wisely. When we are reducing these deficits and costs, the trick is to take a strategic approach and not to make short-term sacrifices that harm patients. That is why, at the weekend, we announced a £4.2 billion IT investment programme, which will mean that doctors and nurses spend less time filling out forms and more time with their patients.