Crisis as children's hospital closes beds

Last updated at 09:22 07 March 2005

Health Secretary John Reid is under fire after it emerged Great Ormond Street Hospital has cancelled operations and closed beds due to a funding shortfall.

The famous children's hospital is £1.7 million in deficit for this financial year because it treated too many sick youngsters.

It was also forced to re-direct patients to other hospitals and use fewer bank and agency staff to get its budget back on track before April.

The Tories have described the situation as 'shocking' while the Liberal Democrats accused the Labour government of 'dither and delay' in tackling a problem which recurs in hospitals across the country.

Dr Reid has pledged to look into the hospital's funding shortfall. He said: "I have been assured that Great Ormond Street Hospital is not turning away desperately ill children, but I will be looking into the financial deficit at the Trust, which is less than one per cent of their budget.

"The Trust have treated two per cent more cases this year than last year and the Trust's budget has risen by over £50m since 1999.

"While action is being taken to reduce the deficit, the priority is to ensure that any impact on patient care is minimised. The Trust should be at balance by the end of the financial year."

'Failing to get resources'

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It is shocking that so important a hospital, providing vital services to children, isn't getting the resources it needs.

"What more telling an example could there be of Labour failing to get resources to the frontline."

Last week, between 50 and 63 beds were closed - amounting to around a fifth of capacity - although the hospital stressed only a small number were closed for financial reasons.

The deficit arose because the renowned London hospital over-performed this year, treating two per cent more youngsters by the end of January than expected.

In this financial year, the hospital treated 11,632 in-patients, 79,156 out-patients and 6,955 day cases.

The hospital said that out of the affected operations, most were being rescheduled not cancelled and the measures only affected a small number of cases.

'Minimise impact on patients'

A spokeswoman tried to reassure parents by insisting no emergency or intensive care patients would be affected.

"We will watch carefully those specialities where children have no reasonable alternatives for treatment in south east England and still do as much elective clinical work as possible," she said.

The hospital specialises in treating children with often rare and complex conditions.

The deficit is just one per cent of the hospital's annual budget of £178 million.

And bed closures are not fixed and are aimed at maximising resources. For example, a bed can be used by several day patients in a day but just once overnight.

A hospital spokeswoman said: "In response to financial pressures, Great Ormond Street has introduced a number of measures all designed to, as far as possible, minimised any impact to patient care.

"Due to the dedication, commitment and hard work of Great Ormond Street staff, we have already treated more children in this financial year than we have been funded for.

'Consolidating wards'

"We are therefore confident that we will have exceeded our activity levels by April 1 2005.

In some areas where we are over-performing and where primary care trusts and other commissioners have made it clear that no more money is available, we are not in a position to continue to provide services above commissioned levels.

"In some areas, this has meant reducing bed numbers to reflect in-post staffing numbers, limiting the number of bank and agency staff used.

Our paediatric intensive care area has a full compliment of staff and only one bed is occasionally closed for staff induction. This bed is expected to be continuously re-open in mid-March.

"Other measures that we have introduced include reviewing our bed usage across the Trust to maximise efficiency. In some cases this has meant consolidating wards, closing beds and scheduling limited theatre closures.

"Beds not occupied overnight are now being used more frequently for day care admissions.

In the first week of these measures being introduced, a small number of operations were cancelled. These have all been re-booked and other surgery is being re-scheduled to reflect reduce work levels."

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) was founded in February 1852 and was the first children's hospital in the English speaking world.

Since then it has grown to an internationally famous centre of excellence in child healthcare.

The hospital has 314 beds and eight operating theatres.

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