Trust hospitals 'closing beds'

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THE LABOUR PARTY claimed yesterday that every major hospital in the health region with the largest number of hospital trusts had beds closed because hospitals had run out of money.

Dawn Primarolo, Labour health spokeswoman, said: 'We see a hospital service which is forced virtually to close down for the last four months of the financial year.'

In the south-western health region all but two acute hospitals are trusts and these will become trusts by 1994. Labour's survey of 13 hospitals in the region, stretching from Cheltenham to Cornwall, was carried out at the weekend.

The British Medical Journal has conducted its own analysis and found that 26 out of 33 major hospitals across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had 'overperformed on some contracts or across the board'.

Nine said they had had to cut down on their activity in order to stay within budget. The journal says that many health authorities do not have enough money to buy hospital services for their patients.

Under the NHS reforms which created an internal market in the health service, hospitals as poviders have to sell their services to health authorities who buy them on behalf of patients in their area, usually in block contracts. Increasing numbers of hospitals are finding they have fulfilled their contracts three to four months before the end of the financial year.

John Chawner, chairman of the British Medical Association consultants' committee, said NHS information was not sensitive enough to allow the contracts to be drawn up sufficiently accurately. 'Underpinning everything is a shortage of money within the NHS. In 30 years in the health service I have never seen a crisis of this magnitude. There are a large number of hospitals now facing exactly the same problem.

'Even if you accept that more money has gone into the NHS, you must then ask what the difference is this year. The answer is the reforms. A district general hospital costs about pounds 100m a year to run. Managers have to get this money from the purchasers. They are not all like John Harvey Jones,' he said.

The south-western health region said it was on target to increase treatments from 487,968 in 1991-92 to 510,492 in 1992-93.