Senior St Albans politicians have expressed concerns after it has emerged the trust in charge of the city’s hospital needs a loan of almost £50 million to curb its spiralling deficit.
The extent of West Hertfordshire Hospital NHS Trust’s financial problems was laid bare as it applied for Government cash to head off a potential £100 million shortfall over the next eight years.
News of the trust’s ballooning deficit comes as hospital chiefs are redrawing services across its St Albans, Watford and Hemel Hempstead sites.
While maternity and A&E services are set to stay at Watford General Hospital, no services have been guaranteed to remain at St Albans City Hospital.
This week St Albans MP Anne Main said the trust’s chief executive, Samantha Jones, had failed to mention its worrying financial state in a recent meeting.
She said: “I have only just met with the chief executive and it is worrying this was not raised with me.
“I understand there have been historic and current issues which is why I urged the trust to agree to hold a public meeting later in the summer. The trust must explain itself to my constituents, many of whom have concerns about Watford and would like to see services returned to St Albans.”
Trust finance reports said its original deficit had been revised from £14 million recorded in April to £29.5 million, once agreed by the appropriate body.
If left unchecked, the deficit will reach £124 million in the next eight years.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust changed its recorded deficit after a meeting with England’s NHS trust performance manager, the Trust Development Authority (TDA).
Now the trust is set to apply to the TDA for a £45.7 million loan to help pay off some of its outstanding debts.
Kerry Pollard, St Albans Labour Party parliamentary candidate, expressed fears about what the trust’s worsening finances could mean for the city’s hospital.
He said: “St Albans is the most valuable real estate the trust has and if they have got to shut down a site, it would be very tempting indeed to look at St Albans.
“But on the other hand this would take away a valuable service for the people who live here.
“And services here take the pressure off acute care in Watford – it’s a good system and has worked well but there isn’t the money.
“Borrowing money is a short term palliative solution, in the longer term it needs more money from central government.
“I feel desperately sorry for Samantha Jones and her staff who do their level best to make every penny count.”
In its new business plan, the trust said it would cost approximately £350 million to modernise its aging estate in a way that “supports efficient patient care and minimises health and safety risks”.
The report, presented in the trust board meeting on July 10, said the trust plans to make savings totalling £71.2 million between now and the end of the 2019 financial year.
But the increased emergency activity the hospitals have seen over the past year is expected to get worse and, in addition, the trust must find money to carry out millions of pounds’ worth of maintenance backlog to its buildings and electrical systems.
Sandy Walkington, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St Albans, added the financial implications of the trust’s new clinical strategy were still unknown.
He said: “These immediate numbers are startling especially as we haven’t even heard the financial implications of the trust’s new clinical strategy which will not be announced until next year.
“The trust cannot go on getting deeper and deeper into the red.
“The new board and management team at West Herts are settled in, now they have to deliver so we stop getting these nasty shocks.”
The hospital trust was asked to comment but had not responded at the time of going to print.
Mariane Covington, from the trust, said: "As a trust, we are modelling scenarios which could see our deficit increase to better reflect the challenges we face, including a further rise in the number of emergency patients we are treating and essential spending to further improve the care we provide to our patients.
“Our planned deficit remains at £14 million until any change has been agreed with the appropriate body.”