Welsh NHS Debt Soars

The NHS in Wales has added at least another £17m to its massive debt in the past year, Wales on Sunday has learned. The figure – set to be revealed when Wales’ 14 NHS Trusts publish their end-of-financial-year figures at the end of the month – means the true scale of debt across the Welsh NHS is likely to be approaching £130m.

Last year, Health Minister Brian Gibbons admitted the total accumulated debt of the NHS was £101m. He insisted the Assembly Government was working to tackle inefficiencies and had “clearly outlined” the way forward.

But we contacted every NHS Trust earlier this week and asked what their end-of-year report would contain. They revealed their total debt level has actually risen by 24 per cent in the past year.

And that figure is likely to be higher, as both Pembroke and Derwen and the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trusts failed to provide figures, while Local Health Boards’ debts along with that of Health Commission Wales are expected to push the total up by an eight-figure sum.

The biggest increase in Wales was at Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust, which has seen its debt increase by £9m in 12 months. Another three Trusts reported deficits of between £875,000 and £5.8m. Eight Trusts broke even over the year.

Many Trust bosses have complained that they had not been given enough money to cover the schemes imposed on them by central government. These include new contracts for GPs, which have gone over budget by around £40m, and the Agenda for Change scheme, designed to attract more nurses into NHS work.

Last year the National Assembly’s audit committee said the debt, despite increased funding, called into question how well the service was managed.

Tory health spokesman Jonathan Morgan said: “The resources aren’t there to meet these responsibilities. There are new requirements with regards to meeting certain waiting time targets. They’ve got waiting time targets for the next year which Trusts are expected to meet, but Trusts haven’t got the resources.

“The schemes are mismanaged. Many of them are worthwhile schemes which reward clinical excellence but are not thought through properly. I’m not removing the NHS from any of the blame – they have got to make sure they manage its budget successfully and have the staff capable of doing the work, but at the end of the day it’s not fair to ask the NHS to find savings to fund Government schemes.”

But patient watchdog Peter Johns, director of the Board of Community Health Councils, said he did not believe the public would have seen a deterioration in services as a result of the debt. Care was actually improving, he said.

“Waiting lists are still coming down,” he said. “There are not too many occasions patients are waiting too long in A&E. Generally speaking, in the hospitals, people are getting through a lot quicker. They are on target pretty well as far as that goes. A lot of money is being invested in the NHS and they are improving the way they use it, although not as quickly as they should. It’s happening in some places but some Trusts don’t want to take new ideas up, they like to do it the way they’ve done it for years.”

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government said ministers had been working with the NHS Trusts in Wales throughout the past year to live within the resources available. She added: “Significant progress has been made against the original projected deficit; however, at this stage it is not possible to give final figures for this financial year. However, we anticipate it will be far less than the £17m suggested.”