Use cash for services, not servicing this massive debt

COMMENT: Time to take responsibility for our own wellbeing

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Fears are growing over the financial health of our superhospital – and the prognosis is worrying. The deal to pay for the redeveloped Queen Alexandra Hospital at Cosham has been revealed to be costing taxpayers £120,000 a day.

Under the terms of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI), Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has to find £44m a year for the next 31 years in ‘mortgage’ repayments.

So over the next year the trust must come up with £30.5m of efficiency savings. Seven hundred jobs have already gone and 100 beds have been lost.

Suddenly our superhospital is not looking so super, more like a massive financial millstone.

The Portsmouth trust is not alone in its problems.

It is but one of 22 trusts who have expressed serious concerns to the government about the effect of PFI deals on their balance sheets.

They have been saddled with huge debts and have been left with no choice but to cut services in an attempt to make figures add up.

The previous Labour administration enthused about PFIs, where private cash was used to build facilities with taxpayers repaying the debt over a long term.

But the consequences are now clear for all to see. Trusts are struggling to pay what is owed.

Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock has called on the government to intervene and get the QA contract renegotiated so that it is not crippled by repayments.

We agree this is the most sensible course of action. All avenues have to be explored.

The government must show support for beleaguered trusts and do all it can to help to get them out of a big mess that was not of their own making.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has already accepted that some hospitals have been pushed to what he called ‘the brink of collapse’ by their huge PFI debts.

He added: ‘The truth is that some hospitals have been landed with PFI deals they simply cannot afford.’

The QA certainly seems to fall into this bracket. Its PFI contract must be looked at again, so that public money is used for services rather than servicing a debt.