Cash-strapped ambulance trust forced to take out loan

A cash-strapped ambulance trust has been forced to take out a loan as it heads towards the end of the financial year several millions of pounds in debt.

Polegate Make Ready Centre SUS-161020-100101001
Polegate Make Ready Centre SUS-161020-100101001

The South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust is expecting to finish 2016/17 with a £7million financial deficit.

This week a member of the public contacted the Observer, concerned that SECAmb had been forced to take out a loan in order to pay paramedics’ wages in December.

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The trust denied this was the case but said it applied for the capital from NHS Improvement ‘as a matter of prudence’ to cover future operating costs.

The loan was agreed last week.

The trust has not revealed how much it has borrowed.

Meanwhile in a bid to save further funds, the trust is scrutinising the need for what it calls ‘enhanced overtime’ - where staff are paid double time - and this will only be offered if absolutely necessary.

A South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) spokesperson said: “We have been very open with our staff and the public, through our public board meetings and papers, about the difficult financial position the trust is in.

“We are working hard to address this issue, which is a similar position to a large number of other NHS trusts.

“Overtime for operational shifts on the road and in our Emergency Operations Centres has not been cancelled.

“The requirement for overtime shifts, however, will be closely scrutinised to ensure that only those shifts deemed to add significant benefit, in terms of meeting patient demand, will be offered as overtime.

“The trust paid December salaries in the normal manner.

“As a matter of prudence the trust applied for a working capital facility from NHS Improvement in December to ensure that operating costs would be covered going forward.

“This was agreed last week.

“We forecast that any drawdowns against this facility will be fully repaid during 2017/18.”

The trust also reacted to concerns raised by a member of the public who reported that up to 15 first responder cars were parked up at a time, at the Polegate Make Ready Centre over the festival period.

The trust denied this move was to save money, but said SECAmb is now taking part in the national Ambulance Response Programme, which encourages trusts to send the most appropriate vehicles to emergency calls first - often prioritising ambulances over paramedic cars.

The revelations about the loan from NHS Improvement signals another rough week for SECAmb.

Earlier this month the medical director at the trust quit after 18 months in the role.

As reported last week, Rory McCrea, who joined the trust in July 2015, has left the organisation ‘with immediate effect’. The trust cited ‘personal reasons’ for Mr McCrea’s decision to step down from the post.

The announcement came the same week SECAmb unveiled its new chief executive Daren Mochrie, who will be aiming to guide the troubled trust out of special measures.

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