Patricia Hewitt is resisting demands to bail out NHS hospitals that are heavily in the red to avert a winter crisis in the health service. Dismissing calls for more money, she said: "No - there is more money going into the NHS than ever before."
Tory and Labour MPs warned last week that NHS hospitals were heading for a winter crisis, exacerbated by cold weather, with £1bn deficits leading to cuts and ward closures.
In an interview with The Independent Ms Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, said hospitals would have to reorganise to cut out wasteful "bed blocking" by patients who should be sent home more quickly.
"A hospital that has a deficit, the first thing you want to know is how long are they keeping their patients in for; how much of their surgery is on a day case; how many outpatient appointments are they shifting to the community," she said.
"You don't say, 'Let me give you more money to wipe out your deficit'. You do say, 'Excuse me, have you done everything you need to do that the good and the best hospitals are doing to use every increased pound of taxpayers' money we are giving you to the maximum effect?'
"I don't know whether Marx ever said waste is theft from the working class, but he should have done, because it is. We have asked them to pay higher national insurance contributions. We have got to give them maximum value for money."
Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, said that 90 primary care trusts, 65 NHS trusts and 12 NHS foundation trusts were in deficit. The combined deficits amounted to £630m, he said.
Ms Hewitt said management teams were being sent into the failing hospitals, but she insisted that reorganisation was the key to reducing deficits.
"Every organisation with a deficit has to make sure it delivers on a recovery programme. Overall we will reduce the deficit this year and eliminate it at least by the end of next year. For individual trusts, some will eliminate this year; some with the biggest problems will eliminate it in two years," the Health Secretary said.
She denied the cash crisis would force ward closures. "It means the organisation of services have to deliver the best quality of care with the best use of the money. In many cases that does mean reorganising ... if you don't need to keep people in hospital for 38 days for a broken hip, why keep people in for longer than you need to - get people out quicker, cut your MRSA rate - that may mean you don't need so many acute beds in your hospitals. That is a sign of success, not a sign of failure," she said.Reuse content