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Barking debts begin to bite

A severe cash flow crisis has been brewing at a large London trust over the past year, and began rearing its head after suppliers threatened legal action over unpaid bills.

An investigation has been launched into the financial management at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust, which has had to draw down a £15m emergency bailout loan from the Department of Health to pay invoices that have been outstanding for more than 90 days.

It is understood some suppliers have been owed money for more than a year, with some threatening to stop deliveries, or warning they could take legal action.

At a public board meeting this week, a non-executive director said the problems had “recently come to light” after issues were identified by a newly appointed director of financial operations, with questions raised as to whether the trust had shown appropriate prudence in its income assumptions.

NHS Improvement is leading the investigation, with Grant Thornton carrying out an initial review.

Jeff Buggle was the trust’s finance director until April, before becoming acting chief executive over the summer, and then moving to NHSI to be finance director for the London region (which oversees the trust).

NHSI said its investigation would be conducted independently of the regional team “to avoid any perception of conflict of interest”.

Steve Collins, who was previously the deputy FD, has been acting finance director since Mr Buggle moved into the acting CEO role.

The trust has been seeking to fill the role permanently, but might not have much luck unless it pays its recruitment firm, which is understood to be among the suppliers seeking payment.

Multiple mega-mergers

NHS England has approved mergers consolidating 11 CCGs into four, HSJ revealed on Thursday afternoon.

The national body confirmed its commissioning committee had approved the mergers in prinicple, to come into force in April 2018.

The move marks the biggest commissioning sector reconfiguration since CCGs were formed in 2013. CCG mergers have been approved on two occasions previously.

The mergers 2018 are:

They remain dependent on the CCGs meeting several conditions, such as chair and senior management appointments, and a single commissioning and finance strategy.

Three of the four merged organisations will have budgets of more than £1bn. The biggest will be the new Birmingham and Solihull commissioner, which, taking into account a shared west Birmingham budget with West Birmingham and Sandwell CCG, will have a budget of about £2bn and cover 1.3 million people.