County’s top health boss resigns as debts spiral and concerns are raised over Bedford Hospital

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Bedfordshire’s top health boss has resigned amid revelations of spiralling debt.

GP Dr Paul Hassan will leave at the end of the week, the T&C can exclusively reveal.

He is the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s accountable officer and also chief clinical officer.

Last week we reported how the CCG, which is responsible for buying healthcare for the county, expects to have £40million debt by the end of the financial year.

This is thought to be the largest clinical commissioning group deficit in the country.

Earlier predictions settled at a figure of £28.8 million but an unexpected growing demand for care means the total has boomed by more than £10 million.

Dr Hassan said: “I believe that, given our financial position, we need a full-time accountable officer who can give the difficulties we face their full and undivided attention.

“We have established a strong foundation in terms of our plans for financial recovery and transforming the delivery of healthcare in Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire.

“Now is the right time to step aside and let a new accountable officer lead BCCG into the next phase.”

He added: “I am proud of what we have achieved for patients. At the first meeting of practices to develop the CCG in Bedfordshire, we agreed that the organisation should be led by clinicians and focus on safe care for our patients. I believe we have achieved that.”

The BCCG has appointed Nick Robinson as the interim accountable officer, who has more than 35 years NHS experience, including 10 years as an NHS finance director. The chief clinical officer position remains vacant.

Chief operating officer John Rooke also resigned last week.

Mayor Dave Hodgson said: “The CCG needlessly put crucial local hospital services under threat on the pretext of the hospital’s financial viability, but it is the CCG’s own financial problems which have spiralled out of control.

“The resignation of both the Chief Officer and Accountable Officer should represent an opportunity for new leadership at the CCG to get a grip of the organisation and its finances. Crucially, I believe this will be an opportunity for a change of direction for the CCG which is focused on a positive future for healthcare locally, including at a thriving Bedford Hospital.”

Meanwhile, it has been revealed the private firm awarded a £125million contractover five years to run musculo-skeletal services has asked BCCG for a further £3.1million.

According to Labour’s Patrick Hall and Councillor Louise King, Circle Health has requested additional funding for “contract over performance”.

They claim the contract sees roughly one third of the more straightforward procedures carried out outside of Bedfordshire leaving Bedford Hospital to deal with the more complex and expensive work.

They say this results in Bedford Hospital receiving less NHS funding because it is now dealing with fewer patient cases, and the new system has led to significant delays for many of the patients treated in Bedford.

Mr Hall, Labour Parliamentary candidate said: “This privatisation of vital local hip and knee replacement services has created longer wait times, additional funding pressures for Bedford Hospital which could jeopardise A&E, and a two-tier system within the NHS. Now the people behind it all want even more money but refuse to disclose exactly why. Despite the superb efforts of hospital staff to recover the performance of A&E in recent weeks, the overall system is putting Bedford Hospital services at risk.”

Bedford Hospital chief executive Stephen Conroy said he remains concerned about the ongoing risk to the trauma service as a result of the MSK contract, adding it “was not assessed thoroughly as part of the original tender exercise, as well as the impact it is having on the trust financially and from a patient experience point of view.

“We have worked to minimise the impact on our patients and continue to engage in full dialogue with BCCG and Circle. In the meantime I want to reassure patients that they can continue to choose Bedford Hospital to receive high quality orthopaedic care and treatment.”

A Circle spokesman said: “It’s completely untrue to say we’re trying to get any money beyond our contract. At the start of our contract, there was a backlog of patients still waiting for treatment from the old system - and the contract covers the costs of getting them their care quickly, making up for delays that occurred before we started work. That’s quite different to asking for an increase in our budget.

“Under the new system, patients receive care faster, and have free choice over where they’re treated.

“It’s designed around the patient, which is how it should be.”

A BCCG spokeswoman added: “Circle and the CCG have agreed a programme budget for the £125m contract over five years.

“There are scheduled points within the contract to review the programme budget for reasons such as changes in population.”