Health chief fears £51m cuts will lead to people being “at the doors of hospitals earlier”

Karen Ritchie, chief executive of Healthwatch Derbyshire
Karen Ritchie, chief executive of Healthwatch Derbyshire

A Derbyshire healthcare chief fears that the upcoming £51 million in cuts to services in the county will lead to people being “at the doors of hospitals earlier”.

Karen Ritchie, the chief executive of patients’ watchdog Healthwatch Derbyshire, feels that the funding cuts to voluntary organisations in the county could now mean that vulnerable people end up at hospital sooner, due to the lack of intermediate care.

The combined Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which oversee services in the county, must save £51 million between now and April 2019 due to a £95 million overspend.

If the CCGs successfully reduce their budgets by £51 million to a £44 million overspend, then NHS England will bail the combined organisations out, says Ms Ritchie.

In July, Derbyshire CCGs announced that around 40 charities and voluntary groups would have their funding cut off entirely – to save £1.1 million.

Derbyshire CCGs have now agreed to work with Derbyshire County Council to see if the authority can take over support for the groups and charities for which it has withdrawn funding.

Ms Ritchie said: “It was only a four-week consultation for the cuts to voluntary organisations, it is not a great deal of money in the grand scheme of things but cuts in that area will have a huge impact on staff and patients.

“Derbyshire CCG want people in their own homes for longer, but if they take away volunteer services they will end up with more people isolated, people will be in crisis sooner, and people will be at the doors of hospitals earlier.

“Voluntary services are instrumental in this area, helping in the community, helping people being discharged from hospital – I think (the £51M cuts) will have a huge impact, as can be shown by the cuts to the volunteer sector already.

“Members of the public should be made aware of changes, they should know what exactly is on the table.

“They ran a four-week consultation in the summer holidays for the volunteer-sector cuts, if you want to run a bad consultation, that’s how to do it.

“The problem is they are rushing things through without doing the appropriate engagement or assessing the impact, because they are having to do things at pace.

“Having highlighted the issue of inadequate public and patient engagement, and raised concerns regarding the impact of the voluntary sector cuts on Derbyshire residents, Derbyshire CCG have stated that they will have further discussions with Derbyshire County Council and the voluntary sector to look at how the impact can be managed better.”

In response, a spokesperson for the four Derbyshire CCGs said that some voluntary grants will continue and reiterated a hope that the county council may be able to take on or fund some of the services.

He said: “We recognised following our analysis of voluntary sector spending that we required further discussion with the sector to help us to understand the potential impact of removing grant funding.

“The four week period wasn’t intended to be a formal public consultation but a period of engagement with the voluntary sector in which they could review the information we had gathered and add to it to help us with our decision-making.

“That period was incredibly helpful to us and our governing bodies reviewed the outcome of this process at their meeting in common in August.

“This has already influenced decisions, including some instances where grants will now continue and agreement to have further discussions with Derbyshire County Council to see whether there is any scope for health and adult care to support other grant-funded services.”

A county council spokesperson said that it would be reviewing its voluntary sector spending to see how it could accommodate the services previously supported by the CCGs.

She said: “Council leader Coun Barry Lewis has voiced the county council’s concerns about the CCGs’ plans to cut voluntary sector funding and he has warned about the major impact this action would have.

“After calling on the CCGs’ chief executive Dr Chris Clayton to reconsider the plans, positive meetings have been held between the council, Dr Clayton and other representatives to work towards maintaining services across the county.

“We have asked for more information regarding the impact of their proposed changes to health care services and welcome the progress that has already been made, including the fact that some grants will now continue.

“We’ll be starting a review of our voluntary sector spending next month and have agreed to work alongside the CCGs as part of this work.”

Now High Peak MP Ruth George, Labour, has secured a debate in Parliament on Tuesday at which she will voice concerns about healthcare cuts in Derbyshire and pose questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, MP Matt Hancock.

Mrs George said: “These proposed cuts will affect the services that Derbyshire residents need to help keep them well, reduce their need for NHS services, and to get our NHS back on track in the long term.

“Seeking to cut them is short-termism at its worst, but has been precipitated by the budget being forced on the CCGs this year when they are being forced by NHS England to severely curtail expenditure very quickly, and this is the only means they have to do so.

“On top of a plethora of cuts already in place and announced on payments to GPs and district nurses for wound treatments and cuts to diabetes nurses, they are decisions that will lead to patients becoming more unwell and suffering, an even greater strain on people who work for the NHS, and longer costs in the long term.

“I have a debate in Parliament on this on September 4 – our first day back.

“I will be raising the cuts and their impact directly with the Health Minister and calling for an assessment to be made of the CCGs’ decisions, not just on finance but on the health and wellbeing of patients in Derbyshire, which should surely be the most important consideration.”

Ms Ritchie has urged members of the public to email their local MP ahead of the parliamentary debate on the topic, to ensure that their voices are heard.