2:30pm Wednesday 15th December 2010
By Siobhan Ryan, Health Reporter
Thousands of patients across West Sussex face months of delays for treatment as NHS bosses battle to keep their finances under control.
All obesity surgery, fertility treatment and vasectomies will be put on hold until the next financial year, which starts in April, unless in exceptional circumstances.
Other non-urgent operations such as repairing varicose veins and plastic surgery will also be put on hold unless that treatment is vital.
NHS West Sussex managers are also asking GPs to delay referring patients for other routine treatments such as knee operations, meaning they could face waits of nine weeks or more.
The primary care trust has to make £50 million savings this financial year but despite already bringing in a variety of cost-cutting measures, it still faces a £10 million shortfall.
Managers are still expecting to break even by the end of March but say they need to take action now.
All emergency and urgent care will continue to be delivered as normal.
PCT chief executive John Wilderspin said: “None of us relish having to take such decisions, but we have thought very carefully about what needs to be done.
“We have spoken to GPs and other clinicians about our plans, which will help to ensure that the NHS in West Sussex can provide high quality, sustainable services in the future.”
Acting medical director Andrew Foulkes said: “Our ageing population means that more people rely on the NHS when they are affected by cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, and many other serious conditions.
“We have invested heavily in improving these services in recent years.
“To make sure that we can all access services when we need them, it is necessary to prioritise how the budget is spent although we know that for some patients this will mean waiting slightly longer for treatment.
“It is also important to remember that there is no blanket ban for any treatment – if someone has a compelling medical need, they will be treated.”
The PCT's financial state was recently discussed by members of the West Sussex health overview and scrutiny committee watchdog.
Chairwoman Christine Field said: “The key issue for us to understand is any impact on services and patients, and of particular concern is that to cut costs, people will have to wait for longer to be seen.
“As a committee, we’ve agreed to monitor key areas the financial situation could impact on, such as any proposals to change services, any knock-on effect on community services resulting from changes and impact on patients.”
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