CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Government’s NHS debt write-off like ‘gang of burglars handing back stolen jewels’

More than £240million in loans to be cleared because of coronavirus

06 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The New Journal revealed last year how the Royal Free owed £240million in loans 

GOVERNMENT plans to write-off billions of pounds of NHS hospital debt is like a “gang of burglars seeking gratitude after handing back some of the jewels they have stolen”, campaigners have warned.

Hundreds of millions of pounds are owed by Camden patients’ three main NHS hospitals – including more than £240million in repayable loans at the Royal Free – are to be cancelled, according to health secretary Matt Hancock.

He said on Friday that “nobody in our health service should be distracted by their hospital’s past finance” as he scrapped £13.4 billion of debts nationwide.

But critics argue that NHS trusts should never have been put into a position where they had to take out loans from the Government – and the NHS has been chronically underfunded for the last decade.

John Lister, secretary of the campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, said: “It’s like a gang of burglars seeking gratitude after handing back some of the jewels they have stolen: £13.4 billion averages to a refund of just £1.3billion per year for the last ten years – far less than the real terms cuts that have been imposed by the virtual freeze on funding while the population and its health needs have grown.”

The New Journal revealed last August how the Royal Free NHS trust in Hampstead had been forced to take out more than £240 million in repayable loans to the Department for Health, while it had posted a record £80million deficit.

An external audit of the NHS trust’s books had, in August, cast “significant doubt” about its ability to “continue to provide healthcare services”.

UCLH, meanwhile, has for years been saddled with huge Private Finance Initiative (PFI) repayments going back to the when the Euston Road hospital was built in 2005. It, like most NHS hospitals that have been dramatically underfunded for years, have posted eye-watering deficit figures in recent months.

The loan debts have had a direct effect on what services trusts provide during a period when bed numbers have been axed in all hospitals across the country.

Cllr Oliver Cooper

Councillor Oliver Cooper, leader of Camden Conservatives, said he wrote to the health secretary on the back of the New Journal story last year.

He said: “The Royal Free’s funding for patient care has increased by £165m a year since comparable accounts were published four years ago.

“UCLH’s funding for patient care has increased by £101m a year in the two years that comparable accounts have existed.

“That’s 5 per cent annual growth and 6 per cent annual growth respectively – three times the rate of inflation – so critics of this measure’s claims about real-terms funding aren’t even remotely true.”

He added: “The Royal Free and UCLH are two of the most indebted hospitals in the country, and have been saddled with mountains of debts from PFI, requiring hundreds of millions of borrowing from the Government to service and repay.

“The Government clearing these legacy debts will breathe new life into our NHS locally and nationally. The Government relieving hospitals of their debts will mean the NHS in Camden has many millions of pounds extra every year to spend on saving lives.

“Anything that removes uncertainty and gives peace or mind and financial flexibility to our hospitals will save lives in the short term and the long term.”

A statement from Mr Hancock had said: “Today’s £13.4 billion debt write off will wipe the slate clean and allow NHS hospitals to plan for the future and invest in vital services.”

 

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