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Swine flu may force PCTs to 'cut services'

The cost of tackling the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic may lead to cuts in certain Primary Care Trust services in 2010/11

The cost of tackling the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic may lead to cuts in certain Primary Care Trust (PCT) services in 2010/11.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, GP newspaper requested details from England's 152 PCTs asking how much each PCT estimated management of the pandemic cost in 2009/10 as well as how any shortfall will be recouped.

Of the 107 PCTs that responded, five confirmed they would have to cut funding to pay for the response, with a further 25 saying that costs had been managed in 2009/10 using contingency funds held back from their annual budget.

Although funding for vaccines and antiviral drugs were managed centrally by the Department of Health (DH), PCTs had to cover further expenses, including storage and distribution.

Advertising and publicity for the H1N1 campaign, as well as other equipment and consumables, such as extra gloves and masks, were also covered by PCTs.

The average cost of managing the pandemic was £340,000 for the 56 PCTs who responded with financial estimates. These costs ranged from £11,100 in Milton Keynes to £1.7m in Eastern and Coastal Kent.

Eastern and Coastal Kent, one of the five PCTs to confirm future funding cuts, said: "It is hoped that any shortfall will be recouped through savings plans in 2010/11."

It is thought the actual cost for PCTs will be significantly higher than these estimates though, with PCTs unable to account for costs of staff being redeployed and of time spent on organising the response.

Speaking to GP, deputy chairman of the General Practitioner's Committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said individual PCTs should not be burdened with the bill: "I think a pandemic should be seen as an exceptional circumstance and a PCT should be fully supported by central government.

"The whole nature of a national health service is that one area should be able to support another, and the unusual financial burden of this episode should be borne centrally."

David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation's PCT Network, said: "PCTs are required to plan for a surplus for exceptional and unexpected events. The costs not covered by the DH, you would expect contingency funds to deal with."

He added that PCTs that had not used these reserve funds on managing the pandemic would be able to fund other patient services, though PCTs in areas with a large number of H1N1 cases would be disproportionately hit.

He said: "Every penny you've spent on this you won't be able to spend on something else."

6th May 2010

From: Healthcare

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