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Supertrust to slash beds to reduce debts

PUBLISHED: 15:57 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 09:46 12 August 2010

THE top doctor behind a merger of three hospitals said that beds will have to be reduced to avoid debts spiralling. Dr Chris Streather,

THE top doctor behind a merger of three hospitals said that beds will have to be reduced to avoid debts spiralling.

Dr Chris Streather, appointed chief executive of South London NHS Trust on Monday (March 9), said his 'pioneering' super-trust will have to work hard to avoid sinking into further debt.

As an amalgamation of debt-laden hospital trusts from Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich, the trust already finds itself in £125 million debt.

Dr Streather, a 46-year-old father of three from Sydenham Hill, said: "If we are to avoid racking up this much debt again we need fewer beds.

"Across the three sites we certainly have plenty of space. But having too many beds would be too expensive, and too few could also cost us."

Whilst admitting figures were uncertain, the chief executive said it would be "really easy" to use emergency care beds at the average London efficiency, which would save 39 beds alone.

The old trusts' long shadow of debt, notably the £101 million Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust built in five years, has led campaigners to be sceptical of the merger's financial worth.

In order to receive a top-slice of savings from Primary Care Trusts to wipe out its debt, the merged trust will have to find ways to stem the £20 million a year it is haemorrhaging.

Dr Streather, a kidney-specialist with over 20-years medical experience, expects his one-board trust to be more efficient.

Much of this would be down to separation of services, such as the downgrading of Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, (QMS) from an A&E hospital to an elective surgery centre and trust HQ.

The Doctor said: "In the long term having three A&E units on one patch we would not have enough staff to man them safely.

"Even if we could afford to get enough doctors to fill the three A&E rotas, that work force does not exist."

The A Picture of Health (APOH) consultation on centralising hospital care last year concluded that QMS would lose its A&E along with maternity services.

Orpington Treatment Centre also faces an uncertain future in the centralising programme.

Whilst Dr Streather said it was currently important to meet 18-week targets, he said the centre was "limited".

He added: "It is too small to have enough staff going through it to justify critical care, and you do need some critical care support."

South London NHS Trust will serve over a million people and due to its size will be the first London trust to seriously attempt to follow Lord Darzi's Framework for Action vision.

Dr Streather hopes that the 'ambitious' plan will quickly attract staff to the trust following crippling recruitment problems at QMS, as reported in the Times.

The Independent Reconfiguration Panel is due to report on its investigation into the fairness of the APOH consultation to the secretary of state by March 31.

Its report is expected be published on www.irpanel.org by May.

jules.cooper@archant.co.uk

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