Published: 13/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5809 Page 9

The chief executive of a no-star trust with one of the biggest deficits in the NHS has denied that it is being crippled by financial problems.

East and North Hertfordshire trust chief executive Maggie Donovan made her comments after a clinical governance review by the Commission for Health Improvement.

The trust inherited debts of around£9m when it was set up two years ago and has incurred a further deficit of£3.3m since. It was given 12 months to improve after the star-ratings were published in September.

CHI's foremost concern was patient safety and privacy. Both were being 'seriously compromised' by the physical environment of the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital's radiology department.

And it said that 'too many parts of the trust are in a state of neglect and disrepair'.

But the report suggested that many of the trust's failings were rooted in financial difficulties and the fallout from a complex merger.

'We had a strong message that staff felt the trust was paralysed in the face of the many external pressures impacting on it as well as the financial problems it is facing.'

The report said the trust's attention had been focused on 'managing a complex and unpopular merger, a large and increasing financial deficit and a turbulent external environment'.

Ms Donovan recognised that many of the problems highlighted could only be resolved through investment. 'The financial problems facing the trust are historical and it has been extremely challenging for us to deal with that.

But we have got the auditors in at the moment and we are expecting to give a much improved picture at the annual general meeting' [in the early autumn].

But she rejected the idea that the trust was being crippled by its inherited debts. 'We need capital investment - that is true. But I think what the CHI review showed was the tremendous amount of work being done and the high-quality service that is being provided by the staff.'

East Hertfordshire community health council chief officer Pauline Dyer said the problems dated back to the 1970s, when the area was starved of investment on the assumption that patients would travel into London.