Hospitals back on track after fixing £8m hole

St Richard's Hospital has come through a '˜very challenging year' of budget cuts by listening to its staff, its chief executive said at its annual general meeting.

Matron for critical care Louise Skelt (fifth from right) with the critical care team at Worthing Hospital celebrating their achievements
Matron for critical care Louise Skelt (fifth from right) with the critical care team at Worthing Hospital celebrating their achievements

The NHS trust which runs the hospital, as well as Worthing Hospital and Southlands in Shoreham, has announced a budget surplus, just one year after posting a £7.2million deficit.

Marianne Griffiths, chief executive of Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said at St Richard’s Hospital: “It’s been quite an eventful year for us, sometimes people forget how busy we can be in the hospital.”

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Speaking at the trust’s annual general meeting yesterday, Mrs Griffiths said management were ‘delighted’ with the trust being rated ‘outstanding’ by the CQC, but added: “Even being outstanding isn’t being perfect, there are things we can always do to improve.”

She went on to praise her staff for a number of improvements in the trust over the past year, including a breakthrough in slashing the amount spent on expensive agency staff from £23,263,000 in 2015-2016 to just under £18,887,000 last year, a fall of 18.8 per cent.

Mrs Griffiths said: “It was a remarkable achievement that improves the quality of care people get in our organisation.”

However, overall spend on salaries rose by just over five per cent to £283,301,000.

She went on to discuss how the number of patients being seen across the three hospitals was ‘significantly growing’.

In 2016-17, 594,337 people attended an outpatient appointment, up from 585,846 the year before and a huge increase on the roughly 392,000 when the trust was created in 2009.

Mrs Griffiths said staff were having to be clever in order to treat rising numbers of patients with increasingly strained resources.

She said: “We have to look at different ways of how we deliver treatments within the same resources.”

One of the ways these savings are being achieved is by reducing delayed discharges from intensive care units (ICUs) – patients staying in the ICU more than 24 hours after they were declared fit to go in a regular ward.

Mrs Griffiths explained how moving patients into regular wards could save hundreds of thousands of pounds, but is also key for patient experience.

Matron for critical care Louise Skelt said: “It isn’t about money, but doing what’s right for patients.

“Delayed dicharges from critical care are a national problem that has got worse over the past five years. And it is really important to get this right – to ensure we can admit patients who need critical care and help others move on to a more appropriate setting when they are ward fit.

“The intensive care unit is not the right place, either physically or psychologically, for patients who no longer need critical care. It is not a normal environment.

“Our patients have often been faced with their own mortality and share the area with people who are very sick.”

Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was the only trust across the country to hit a target of reducing bed days lost by delayed discharges by 30 per cent.

Chief financial officer Karen Geoghegan said it had been a ‘very challenging year’ for the trust, which faced a budget squeeze along with the rest of the NHS.

She told the meeting: “At the beginning of 2016-2017 we had quite a formidable task ahead of us.

“We were asked to deliver a £16.4million surplus.”

In the end, the trust declared a surplus of £8.1million, up £15.3million against the previous year, where there was a £7million deficit.

Despite missing the target, she said this was ‘a significant improvement in terms of our financial positon on the previous year’.