Will Andrew Lansley stick with his habit of using Cumbria as poster child for GP commissioning?

Given the slew of bad news from the county in the past week, maybe not. Papers from NHS Cumbria’s 18 January board meeting showed that, on trends to the end of November, it was on course to overspend its 2011-12 budget for its two local hospital trusts by £4.9m, driven mainly by high demand for emergency treatment.

There was little evidence this high demand was benefiting Cumbria’s hospitals. North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust reported its financial position remained “very weak”, and “although activity and income continue to be above plan, costs are also higher”.

By the end of November the trust had made only £3.7m of the £14.2m savings it would need just to break even in 2011-12. And around the time North Cumbria’s board was receiving these figures, staff representing nine professional associations, royal colleges and unions issued a joint statement expressing “grave concern” about “ongoing cuts” at the trust.

It was their professional opinion that the “quality and safety of patient care is suffering as a direct result of mismanagement of existing resources at the trust”, they warned. The statement was refuted by former NHS North East nursing director Aidan Mullan, who carried out an independent assessment of North Cumbria before Christmas and said he had “no serious concerns” about patient care.

Meanwhile, Cumbria’s other acute, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, learned that it was to face its second investigation in this financial year by the Care Quality Commission. The subject this time? The trust’s emergency care.