Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is set to end the financial year more than £28million in deficit.

Surrey Comet:

The Trust revealed the anticipated deficit in the first of its new Public Briefing Meetings – attended by six residents and journalists – which was held at Epsom Hospital on Friday, March 11.

Last year the Trust broke even.

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Members of the board also informed the gathered crowd that despite the Trust’s financial shortcomings, most targets for delivering care were met.

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The Trust has taken out a £25 million loan from the Department of Health to help alleviate the debt, but health campaigners argue this would not have been deemed necessary if central Government had provided sufficient funding to the NHS.

The remainder of the Trust’s debt is to be covered by the Trust’s Financial Recovery Plan, which is on track to surpass its end-of-year target of being £3.2 million in the green.

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Chief financial officer for the Trust, Rakesh Patel assured the public meeting’s attendees that the Trust had a long-term strategy to address the debt.

He said: “The biggest reason for this deficit has been a pay increase.

“The loan from the Department of Health is a loan with all the conditions that you would associate with any other loan. It is part of a longer term plan to reduce the deficit.

“There has been no interruption to clinical services.”

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A spokeswoman from health campaigners Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH) said: “We feel the idea of a Government-run hospital Trust taking out a ‘loan’ with another Government department, in order to offset not having been allocated sufficient funding to carry out the tasks they need to, sounds rather a lot like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“When the Blair/Brown Government split up hospitals into individual ‘Trusts’, which would operate like little businesses which could go bust, they set up the rules for exactly what is now happening all over the country.”

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A spokeswoman for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “We have agreed with our regulator a deficit position of £28.4 million for the year ending March 2016 on a turnover of £360 million.

“If we were a private sector organisation this would mean that we wouldn’t have the cash to pay our bills and we wouldn’t be able to continue to trade. However, we are a busy hospital, caring for over 900,000 people each year and we must continue to function.

“Therefore the Government provided us with the £25 million cash to enable us to continue to treat patients and pay our bills.”