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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hewitt visits amid cutbacks anger

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was visiting Gloucestershire amid widespread anger at NHS cutbacks. About 500 health jobs and 240 hospital beds are threatened as the county's three PCTs and NHS provider try to claw back a £40m deficit. Last Saturday, thousands of health service workers and union members marched through Cheltenham in protest.

Ms Hewitt visited Cirencester hospital on Tuesday as part of a nationwide tour of health services. She tried to justify the cuts as she has already given her backing to closure of in-patient facilities in Fairford and Tetbury.

The savings are part of moves to reduce an NHS deficit across England, which has reached £512m.

Dozens of hospitals are facing acute pressure and social care services are being scaled back because of NHS deficits, two separate reports say. A Local Government Association survey of 55 councils in the areas affected by NHS deficits said some services had been withdrawn.

The health service finished last year more than £500m in deficit, with one in three NHS bodies failing to balance their books.

The problems have already led to jobs being cut, operations delayed and wards closed.

They analysed how deficits combined with government reforms introducing more competition in the hospital sector could affect 152 NHS trusts in England in the coming years.

The West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which includes St Albans City, Hemel Hempstead and Watford hospitals, is facing the most problems, the research said. The trust has warned that, if cuts are not made, a £100m deficit could be run up by 2010.

The Local Government Association (LGA) survey, compiled in conjunction with the NHS confederation, also revealed the pressure from NHS deficits was hitting social services. Some 55 of the 78 local authorities in areas with deficits replied to the poll.

Seven in 10 councils said they had suffered because of the financial problems, reporting funding for joint NHS and local government projects had been withdrawn and that there was a "sharp increase" in the referral of patients who would normally have been cared for by the NHS.

The councils reported this had led them to withdraw services from people with low-level care needs and increase waiting times for social care assessments.

Councillor David Rogers, the LGA's social care spokesman, said: "Health and social care are two sides of the same coin. It is impossible not to cut services on one side without hurting the other."

Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien said: "Despite the government's repeated, barefaced denials of cuts to frontline patient services we see here stealth cuts to social services caused by the NHS deficits."


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