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Minister warns PCTs over 'slash-and-burn' cuts

By Steve Nowottny

Health minister Mike O'Brien has threatened to ‘name and shame' primary care trusts who carry out ‘slash-and-burn' cuts of frontline services, amid mounting fears over a looming gap in NHS funding.

Speaking at the NHS Alliance's annual conference in Manchester yesterday, which was dominated by talk of impending financial cutbacks, Mr O'Brien issued a stern warning that a ‘simplistic, kneejerk' approach to efficiency savings would not be tolerated.

‘We cannot allow the economic situation to be an excuse for destroying what we've achieved so far,' he told delegates.

‘I will not hesitate to name and to shame those who view it otherwise – who want to cut services rather than improve, who slash budgets rather than finding creative ways of releasing funds to the frontline.'

‘Let me be clear – I do not want to see PCTs or trusts making their own unprompted slash-and-burn hacks at budgets, second-guessing the Chancellor or the outcome of the general election.'

But with the NHS facing imminent efficiency savings of between £15 billion and £20 billion, other speakers at the conference – including NHS chief executive David Nicholson – painted a gloomy picture.

Mr Nicholson claimed that the financial challenges facing the health service would be ‘massively greater than anything any of us have faced in the past.'

And Paul Corrigan, a former health policy adviser to Alan Milburn and Tony Blair, warned that ‘World Class Decommissioning' would be required – even if it risked alienating patients.

He said: ‘Given the current and future financial situation, we're not going to have the money to start doing new things unless we stop doing old things.'

‘We might be better at starting to do things, but we're actually awful at stopping doing things without there being riots in the streets.'

The NHS Alliance itself, meanwhile, called for cuts of a different nature, proposing a ‘bonfire of the quangos' as part of a ten-step plan to help the NHS weather the financial crisis.

It also urged moving more specialist services into the community, enabling PCTs to set cash-limited budgets with providers and more local accountability.

NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said: ‘If the NHS is to survive, people need to see it as a mutual scheme, with local membership, engagement and accountability. Leading from the centre is not an option.'

Health minister Mike O'Brien Health minister Mike O'Brien

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