Hospitals row over '£1m' doctor debt
STAFFORDSHIRE'S biggest hospital claims it is owed around one million pounds by debt-plagued Stafford hospital.
The unpaid bills are for University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) loaning out its doctors to help the county trust treat its patients.
UHNS finance bosses last night branded it "totally unacceptable" that much of the cash has been owed for more than a year.
But despite a new partnership deal signed by the two hospitals, officials at Stafford dispute the figures and argue the sum outstanding is far lower.
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The row comes days after foundation trusts regulator Monitor sent a hit squad to Stafford to review its long-term sustainability of finances and services.
Besides being £16 million in the red and having no night-time A&E because of a lack of doctors, it is also awaiting the findings of a public inquiry into hundreds of deaths linked to neglect.
The money the Hartshill complex says it is owed would be enough to run a small department for a year or pay for scores of hip and knee operations.
UHNS executives are trying to negotiate a payback as soon as possible and insist Stafford's precarious finances will not be accepted as an excuse to write it off.
The debt has arisen because the hospital has had to employ locum doctors to cover for surgeons and other medics sent down the A34 to help ensure Stafford's patients are treated on time.
According to its finance department, the sum has reached a million pounds – with UHNS owing Stafford £200,000 in return.
But the Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which runs the county complex, claims the debt is only £837,000 – and that is offset by £427,000 of bills UHNS has not paid it.
University Hospital finance director John Maddison said: "We are not in official dispute over the debt but negotiations are under way to have it paid back as soon as possible. Some of the bills are not that old but it is totally unacceptable that we have been owed some of this money for over a year now.
"The facts that Stafford ended the financial year in debt and has closed its A&E at nights are not connected to this issue." Health campaigners say the wrangle shows Stafford executives had been ungrateful for the help they had received from the city hospital.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of pressure group North Staffordshire Healthwatch, below left, said: "UHNS has performed a Good Samaritan act for its sister hospital and had dirt thrown in its face as thanks.
"It is outrageous that Stafford executives are behaving like this to satisfy the cash flow it needs as a foundation trust – and flies in the face of partnership working between the two hospitals."
The debt is part of a total of £18 million UHNS is owed for doing work for other NHS bodies.
Around £14 million of it has been outstanding for only two months but £857,000 has remained unpaid for more than a year.
In addition, it has been owed £491,000 by non-NHS bodies for more than 12 months.
Stafford's finance director Aaron Cummins said: "There are longstanding unresolved amounts owed on both sides and we are working together to clear them. This is normal practice."