Charity fears that patients could be put at risk by bid to claw back £27m overspend

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Health trusts face making big savings

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Fears have been raised that NHS services could hit a ‘dangerous’ crisis point as health trusts are forced to make millions of pounds of savings.

The warning has come from Roger Batterbury, chairman of mental health charity Portsmouth Mind, as the scale of the NHS’s financial challenge locally is revealed by The News.

Solent NHS Trust has a budget of £179m this financial year, but has overspent and needs to save £16m.

Meanwhile Southern Health NHS Trust has to make £11.2m of savings by the end of March next year.

Both trusts provide community and mental health services, with Solent predominantly delivering in Portsmouth and Southern Health in Hampshire.

Community services include dentistry, podiatry, physiotherapy and nurses who carry out home visits.

As yet, it is not clear as to whether or how these services could be affected by the overspend.

Parent Linda Carmichael, of Drayton Lane, Drayton, said she was devastated that an NHS-run respite centre is closing later this year as it’s a lifeline for her family.

Solent says £4m of savings have been identified through stopping all ‘non-essential’ expenditure.

This includes halting all non-essential training, stopping conference attendance, not filling non-essential and non-clinical posts, stopping usage of day-rate contractors and stopping use of agency staff where safe to do so.

But Mr Batterbury warned these savings may cause a ‘dangerous crisis’ for the NHS.

He said: ‘We talk about non-essential non-clinical roles, but jobs such as admin assistants and secretaries are just as important to keep a service running.

‘They provide the vital support to clinicians and this will no doubt have an impact on services.

‘You really wonder where services can be cut any more and still provide a safe service.

‘It could be that these changes mean we will see a real crisis and it worries me, as well as the rest of the board.

‘I know the NHS organisations like Solent and Southern Health are in a really awkward position and it’s tough.

‘But it’s getting to a very dangerous crisis.

‘Who’s going to be there to take the phone calls and type up letters while the clinicians are busy?’

Southern Health has already announced respite care centre Tamerine in Southwick Road, Denmead, will close in December, as it is making a financial loss and is not a statutory service and therefore does not need to be provided.

Mrs Carmichael’s son Shaun Simpson, 24, uses the centre, and she said: ‘It’s our lifeline and we are devastated it’s going.

‘It’s perfect for Shaun and has helped the family out tremendously.’

Andrew Strevens, director of finance and performance for Solent, said: ‘It’s common knowledge the health and social care sector is facing unprecedented challenges as it works to maintain safe quality services, while generating wide-ranging efficiencies.

‘We’re not immune to these challenges, as finances become ever tighter within the NHS, we and our partners are working collaboratively to ensure the right services are delivered within the available financial envelope.’

The trust said it had spent £3m on an IT improvement plan and some changes have made services more efficient and cost-effective.

They include:

n Special care dentistry has gone from 21 sites to 19, in order to pool resources on bigger sites, have the latest kit to use and more clinicians available. Money is saved on estate costs.

n Sexual health services have moved into partnership with Lloyds pharmacies so patients who need HIV medication can collect that through their local Lloyds, rather than going to a Solent-run clinic. It has saved the trust money on transportation and distribution of the medication, as it is done by Lloyds and does not require NHS staff time and resources.

n The admin staff in children’s services have changed the process so letters to schools and GPs are not printed and posted, but instead e-mailed direct to schools and GPs.

Mark Brooks, chief finance officer for Southern Health, said: ‘We have worked extremely hard over recent years to maintain services within a difficult financial climate.

‘Last year was extremely difficult as we had a very high demand for adult mental health beds. We also used temporary staffing where we had been unable to fill roles substantively.

‘These two factors contributed to us incurring a financial deficit of £6.1m.

‘We focussed our efforts on reducing our reliance on temporary staffing. We also worked hard to significantly reduce adult mental health out-of-area bed usage – there are currently only four.

‘We are proud of our caring staff and the difference they make to the lives of people who use our services and would like to thank staff for their continued hard work.’

The trust is also looking at its estates as it operates out of 200 buildings but believes not all of these are needed.