THE Countess of Chester Hospital is to receive an extra £1m a year funding after a compromise was reached in a long-running row over the treatment of Welsh patients.
Countess chief executive Peter Herring had complained he was losing £2.5m a year in treating Welsh patients, meaning he had to prioritise English patients to meet stringent government targets for England.
But now a compromise solution has been reached with the Flintshire Local Health Board, which is funded by the Welsh Assembly, which means an extra £1m a year – although this still leaves an annual shortfall of £1.5m.
The funding difficulty arises because the Countess generally gets paid per procedure whereas Wales still pays for block contracts – a ‘rough and ready’ system which results in the hospital not getting enough money for the work it carries out.
The Countess, which is run as a business, needs its Welsh patients who make up 20% of patients and 15% of the hospital’s income.
Hospital spokesman Stephen Winterson said: “There is an additional £1m a year funding per year. The agreement is for 2007/08 and 2008/09. It has not completely closed the funding gap but it’s made a huge difference.”
The hospital has hit early a target for patients in England to be seen within 18 weeks of referral by a GP.
Waiting time targets covering Welsh patients are less stringent.
This two-tier system is a product of devolution. The Welsh Assembly made free prescriptions a priority rather than shorter waiting times.
But Mr Winterson said the extra funding would enable the Countess to provide services to the residents of Flintshire well within the eight month Welsh waiting time target, set by the Welsh Assembly.
In the year 2006/07, average waiting times for Welsh residents at the Countess fell from 85 days to 74 days for day cases, from 89 days to 83 days for inpatients and from 61 days to 58 days for outpatients.
Waiting times in the current financial year for inpatients had fallen further to 72 days, day cases are down to 67 days, while outpatients have gone up slightly to 66 days.
Anyone needing emergency treatment receives exactly the same standard of care and the quality of medical support is the same for anyone coming through the doors.