WHEN the new St Helens and Whiston hospitals opened they were hailed, to much fanfare, as centres of excellence providing world-class healthcare.
Today that boast appears markedly less certain after the mounting debts racked up paying for that bright new future moved closer to becoming an unbearable burden.
Health minister Simon Burns said last week a ‘hit squad’ of auditors and lawyers would sent into St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, which runs both hospital, with a brief to identify savings.
The trust currently pays an annual PFI repayment of £42m, leaving bosses with a £20m budget shortfall.
The trust was named as one of seven nationwide who were struggling to make the payment on their private finance intiative, which funded the new hospitals, branding their financial woes “an absolute disgrace”.
The move has sparked alarm in St Helens, where MPs and council leaders fear it is another attempt by the Government to privatise local health services.
Dave Watts, MP for St Helens North, who first raised concerns of the threat of privatisation to our debt-ridden hospitals, said he was fearful for the future of local healthcare.
“I don’t even know what a hit squad is,” he said. “It is one of those things that was made up in a minister’s office by the political team.
“It might sound good, but what does it mean?
“It’s 18 months since the government accused me of scaremongering when I said they were attempting to privatise our hospital by the backdoor. Nothing has changed since then to alter my view.”
Fellow St Helens MP Shaun Woodward and council leader Marie Rimmer also branded the move an attempt at “backdoor privistation”.
Mr Woodward added: “St Helens has equal rights to first class hospitals and the highest standards of care and safety. These report are another blow to the families throughout the borough.”
Coun Rimmer also demanded an urgent release of bail out money promised when the local trust’s well-documented financial difficulties first came to light last year.
A trust spokeswoman welcomed the promise of financial help but said every review undertaken had concluded the trust’s PFI contract was well managed, with limited opportunities for savings.