BBC Local Democracy Reporter
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NHS services in Tower Hamlets to face spending cuts

NHS North East London has approved budget cuts which will affect hospitals and mental health trusts in Tower Hamlets and other boroughs.

North East London’s NHS has approved cuts of £82 million to its spending this year – but won’t reveal which services will be affected.

The budget cuts, which NHS North East London (NHS NEL) calls ‘efficiencies’, will affect five hospital and mental health trusts serving more than two million people.

NHS NEL is a health body covering eight East London boroughs including Tower Hamlets that was formed last year to oversee healthcare spending and commission GP services. 

At a meeting last week, the board approved a spending plan with £82m in cuts to stay within the £4.2 billion allocated to it by the government.

Chief finance and performance officer Henry Black said this year is ‘probably the most challenging’ for NHS finances since the pandemic started.

However, it is unclear how services will be affected by the budget cuts, as the plan details millions in reduced spending summarised in one or two words.

These include £15m cuts to NHS-funded social care, £17m cuts to ‘prescribing’ and £27m to ‘non-recurrent programmes’.

NHS NEL has not responded to repeated requests from the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) for more details on other more vaguely-titled cuts such as £6m to ‘programme projects’ or £6m to ‘recruitment delay’.

The health body’s chief nurse Diane Jones questioned how much “clinical involvement” there had been while planning the cuts.

This year’s budget was noticeably delayed – public bodies are usually expected to approve their budgets before the financial year begins on 1st April.

But by April this year, Henry said NHS NEL was still struggling to close a ‘gap’ of £73m in predicted needs at East London’s three acute trusts: Barking, Redbridge and Havering University Hospitals, Barts Health and Homerton Healthcare.

He added that East London’s two mental health trusts – East London Foundation Trust and North East London Foundation Trust – have agreed to ‘stretch’ their budgets to cover that shortfall.

Part of the reason for this appears to be that the government has offered NHS NEL and its 41 equivalents across the country an extra £24m if they could ‘close’ their budget gaps.

However, many of the planned cuts are rated as ‘high risk’ meaning that despite its plans, NHS NEL may not be able to limit spending enough.

NHS England recently ordered NHS NEL to cut spending on its 756 staff by 30% over the next two years.

At a board meeting last month, chair of NHS NEL Marie Gabriel said staff are ‘understandably concerned’ about potential job losses but promised the board is committed to being ‘transparent, inclusive and supportive’.

NHS NEL has not provided details of whether any of its services will be affected by these staff cuts.

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