Optimism for Peterborough’s hospital debt but frustration at sharp rise in A&E figures

Peterborough City Hospital EMN-141118-141246009
Peterborough City Hospital EMN-141118-141246009

Huge debts could soon be a thing of the past for the trust which runs hospitals in Peterborough and Stamford.

The Government will soon be asked to cover the entirety of the crippling PFI debt which has hampered the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (PSHFT) since Peterborough City Hospital opened its doors in November 2010.

The trust announced at its Annual Public Meeting on Thursday (July 28) that it lost £37.1 million in the last financial year (down from £38.5 million) after receiving £21.2 million of cash support from the Department of Health.

This was despite making a better-than-expected £14.2 million in what it classes as ‘cost improvements’.

The trust is predicting a £20.15 million deficit for 2017/18, however it is hopeful of receiving an additional £15 million PFI subsidy on top of the £10 million it currents gets from the Department of Health.

Caroline Walker, the trust’s finance director, said it had met cost efficiency targets four years running which should lead to NHS Improvement agreeing the extra £15 million to cover the PFI payments.

But she fired a warning, saying: “The aim is to break even. Whether that’s a possibility for any NHS organisation at the moment, I do not know.”

The trust is also expecting to save £9 million a year by merging with the trust which runs Hinchingbrooke Hospital from April 2017.

However, the merger will incur one-off costs of £13 million if agreed by the boards of both trusts in November.

The annual meeting also revealed that the trust met 13 of its 18 national targets for the past year.

One of those which it missed was its target to treat 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours, largely due to a sharp rise in patients over the winter.

Chief executive Stephen Graves said the sudden spike in attendance has continued beyond February, admitting: “Nobody knows quite why that was. The ambulance service do not quite know why.”

Explaining the possible causes, he said: “Patient acuity and numbers increased, the numbers of delayed transfers of care were kept high.

“The long-term agency and locum staff cap came in so we lost some people who were in for some time. Some moved to Scotland or Wales.

“A combination of all of those things have contributed and we have really struggled to get back on track ever since.

“Over the last week or two we’ve really been reviewing and reviewing and reviewing and will bring in external expertise.”

Changes made to tackle the rise in patients include bringing in extra consultants and making sure senior staff are at the front of the hospital to make decisions earlier so patients who do not need treatment can be discharged quicker.

The trust is also looking at buying what Mr Graves described as the early parts of home care packages to ease bed blocking.

The trust had met its A&E target for the seven months up to November 2015, but there has been a 20 per cent growth in A&E patients from January to July 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.

In total, there were 99,052 Emergency Department attendances in 2015/16, up by 5,500 on 2014/15.

Mr Graves said the sudden spike was “frustrating” in A&E patients for both patients and staff.

But he was more upbeat about the trust’s performance over the past 12 months, with more targets met and staff satisfaction at its highest ever level

He added: “The organisation feels we are going in absolutely the right direction. Getting a ‘good’ rating from the CQC [for Peterborough City Hospital] was an important moment.

“Those sort of things we look at and measure seem to be going in the right direction, but that’s very different from being complacent about it.”