A PATIENTS watchdog has blamed the Government for a cash crisis at an NHS funding body.
It contradicts an Audit Commission report which said management failures within Cheshire West Primary Health Care Trust had created a predicted £17.6m deficit for the end of the current financial year - but which is understood to be more like £28m.
Having been named and shamed as one of 18 such bodies in financial trouble, the Trust was this week described as a victim of NHS reorganisation.
Cheshire West Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forum claims a new 'payment by results' system operated by Foundation Trust hospitals like the Countess has led to increased costs for Cheshire West PCT and many of other crisis-hit PCTs.
A spokesman said: 'If you look at the PCTs that are in financial trouble then invariably they are PCTs with Foundation Trust hospitals and invariably they are early implementers of payment by results.
'At its very simplest, these hospitals get paid for everything they do. The more they do, the more money they get paid and they find ways of doing things. So the Countess has just streaked ahead. If you look at waiting lists, for example, it's not an issue. They have been doing everything as quickly as they can.
'It's been great for patients but it's not going to be because it can't go on.
'About 70% of the deficit relates to payments by results, the rest comes down to the GP contracts, which were ill advised, and some of it relates to consultants' contracts which were ill advised. Some of it relates to independent sector treatment centres.
'There is no money left, so next year the Countess will have to share the pain. That will affect patient services.'
The Cheshire West PPI Forum says the NHS economy has been 'over-heated' for the past year or so and now the price is being paid.
'Why should the people of Chester and Ellesmere Port suffer because of Government misadventuring in reorganising the NHS?' the spokesman said.
The forum says the Trust has privately admitted there will be 'a substantial effect' on patient services and it expects access criteria to certain treatments will be tightened up as happened last year with chiropody. However, the Trust says the cuts will be across the board and the axe will not fall heavier on particular departments.
The PPI Forum says it has seen a document which reveals the PCT is not allowed to criticise the NHS set-up which led to the problems as a condition of its recovery plan.
Forum members are pleading with the Trust not to implement cuts without having 'open discussions' with those likely to be affected.