North East London NHS facing £53million overspend

Since the pandemic, efficiency and productivity basics have reportedly “gone out the window”
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Whipps Cross Hospital
Whipps Cross Hospital

North East London’s combined NHS services are predicting a £53million overspend, just five months after the merger that combined their budgets.

NHS North East London (NHS NEL) was formed in July by merging NHS bodies from seven London boroughs and the City of London and had a budget of £2,366m this year.

At a board meeting on 30th November, its finance chief said utility and agency costs are “causing pressures” that are pushing the new merged body over budget.

Chief finance and performance officer Henry Black said that, since the pandemic, efficiency and productivity basics have “gone out the window”.

He said: “We’re spending ridiculous amounts on agency premiums, that’s something that has developed in the last year or so and we’re developing better use of bank workers so we can control the rates a bit more.

“BHRUT [the NHS trust for Barking & Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge] has done good work on this and massively reduced its reliance on framework agencies.”

The trust also has £21m in government funding that it may have to hand back unless it treats all elective surgery patients who have been waiting for longer than a year by March 2023.

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However, the most recent NHS NEL statistics show that, in September, more than six thousand patients had been waiting for more than a year between referral and treatment at the five hospitals run by Barts Health NHS Trust, which includes Whipps Cross.

Barts Health also has 51 patients waiting more than two years and 920 waiting more than a year and a half.

The surgery areas with the longest waits are colorectal; trauma and orthopaedics; and ear, nose and throat.

Black said that, since NHS NEL formed in July, there has been “reduced” competition over agency staff between hospitals.

Plans to save £100m through “efficiencies” have also had problems “across the board”, he added.

When the Local Democracy Reporting Service requested more details of the £100m “efficiencies plan”, an NHS NEL spokesperson said no reductions in service are planned.

They added: “The [integrated care board] is looking to find efficiencies across all areas of its variable expenditure.

“This includes tighter recruitment controls on agency expenditure and operational efficiencies in areas including continuing health care and prescribing.”

Despite forecasting a multi-million-pound deficit, Black said government instructions to NHS bodies is to mark their end-of-year position as “break-even”.

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