NEWS - FINANCE Patients returned to struggling Surrey and Sussex trust

Published: 08/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5985 Page 11

A controversial scheme to divert patients away from Surrey and Sussex Healthcare trust is to end - after sending them elsewhere turned out to be more expensive.

Routine inpatients are shortly to return to the cash-strapped trust, following a four-month period when local primary care trusts sent them to other providers.

There is still no service-level agreement between local PCTs and the trust - and there is unlikely to be one for the rest of the financial year - but agreement has been reached for the routine operations to restart.

Local PCTs, led by Crawley, originally intended to commission 5,000 routine treatments from other hospitals. Around half of an initial tranche of 3,000 have been carried out.

But it is now possible that some patients waiting for operations will return to Surrey and Sussex in the next few weeks. New referrals will also be made to the trust and normal elective work will resume there from the end of the month.

Crawley PCT said the final cost of the 3,000 transfers is likely to be£5m - which it admits is more than the cost of doing the work at Surrey and Sussex.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare trust chief executive Gary Walker said: 'The trust needed to reduce its costs to live within its means. In doing so, it had to reduce capacity which has led to the transfer of patients.

'Given the high cost to transfer these patients, the trust and the local PCTs have been working together since September to ensure that there are no further transfers.' The reprovision resulted in the temporary closure of theatres at Crawley Hospital and a loss of potential income for the trust, which was£31m in the red at the end of the last financial year.

Crawley PCT said the work had been carried out at a number of other sites, including Dartford, Sidcup and Chichester.

Some work was done at Redwood diagnostic and treatment centre in the grounds of the East Surrey Hospital - part of the trust. The treatment centre is privately owned but all capacity is contracted to the NHS.

Crawley MP Laura Moffatt said she had opposed the reprovision from the start, but it had been put forward as a short-term way of saving money.

Some patients had been unhappy with being offered treatment up to 40 miles away, but Crawley PCT said it had supported them with transport arrangements.