Hospital trust has ‘long way to go’ to upgrade facilities

A TOP health official says a Teesside trust has a “long way to go” to upgrade facilities and recover from years of cash struggles.

South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust has navigated choppy financial waters for the past decade.

Former chief executive Siobhan McArdle said she considered demands for further savings “too great a challenge” on her departure in 2019.

Covid has changed NHS funding arrangements in the past year with top up cash from NHS England helping the trust through the pandemic. But board leaders were warned there was still a long way to go and a lot of money still to be spent on infrastructure at their latest meeting this week.

The trust was promised more than £140m of debts would be written off in a move unveiled at the start of the pandemic last year. The national £13.4bn package promised to wipe £118.2m of its revenue debts alongside its £26.4m capital debts.

However, a long-standing PFI deal to build James Cook University Hospital is still costing the trust more than £1m a week – with the sum growing as the deal wears on.

Paying for the deal has hit the trust’s capital budget in recent years.

Board papers showed the trust had invested in a raft of measures in the financial year to the end of this February – including more than £8.6m on replacing medical equipment and £15.6m on IT infrastructure.

The trust is also still working through its “improvement plan” launched in late 2019 to recover from problems highlighted by a critical Care Quality Commission report (CQC).

Chief executive Sue Page said the trust had been “devoid of capital support” for many years – and the amount spent should be expected in a normal year.

“I think we’re just about getting the basics right now,” she added.

“We’re replacing basic things like the ventilators in theatres which were running at 15 to 20 years old.

“This year, on the back of covid, that’s really putting the basics of a regional centre back.

“We’ve got a long way to go.”

The trust chief told the board a number things still had to be sorted out – with “major investments” due in the coming year.

Ms Page added: “If we’re going to maintain specialist services on site here, we need to start planning for replacements in the not too distant future.

“There’s a long way to go, I’m afraid.”

The board heard there was still uncertainty over long term funding for the trust and the wider NHS.

Chief finance officer Chris Hand said: “The priority is we have a longer term financial plan while recognising we don’t have all the pieces of the jigsaw we need.”

The Northern Echo | Teesside