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NHS Debts Forces Hewitt to Consider Resignation

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt told Members of Parliament tuesday that she would resign if the national health //scheme (NHS) does not break even financially by March 2007.

Her comment was made during cross-examination by members of the Commons health select committee who were apprehensive about the NHS's half-year accounts. These showed that more than thirty percent of NHS trusts are forecasting deficits. The deficits are expected to total almost £1.2bn.

However the secreraty said she was confident the position would improve in the second half. She added "I have said we will return the NHS as a whole to financial balance by the end of March and I will take personal responsibility for that." She also said she did not expect every NHS hospital and PCT to break even.

The NHS wants more controls on spending by the 175 trusts it controls. At the halfway stage, about 136 trusts were forecasting surpluses totaling £736m.

Ms Hewitt blamed the £512m net deficit in 2005-6 on a recruitment. drive that was launched more than five years ago.

"The NHS plan in 2000 worked out how many staff were needed to meet targets. The NHS achieved those targets ahead of schedule and some trusts significantly overshot the targets." The plan envisaged increasing the number of hospital doctors to 75,000 by 2007. But trusts overshot this by three thousand medical practitioners. The trusts also hired tens of thousands more nurses than was expected.

According to Ms Hewitt , "The NHS is spending more of the growth money on staffing than was planned. They have taken on more hospital doctors than intended - and in some cases more GPs. That is why they are having to make difficult decisions, including in some cases redundancies."

The North Cheshire NHS trust has said it would cut 300 jobs and 180 beds at the Warrington and Halton hospitals in an attempt to save £18.3m.


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