A HOSPITAL trust could run out of money to pay some staff wages unless it comes up with a plan to solve its dire financial predicament by next month.

Concerns over the future of Darlington Memorial Hospital have been raised after details of its financial situation were leaked to The Northern Echo.

Senior management and consultants are being told to tighten their belts as money-saving initiatives are missing their targets and an email sent to some staff has highlighted that the trust could run out of money if drastic action is not imposed.

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The County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust ( CDDFT) introduced cost reduction targets (CRT) in an attempt to balance its books – but is missing its £6.9m savings target by about £1.7m.

The detailed email raises the prospect of the length of operation and appointment waiting times being extended beyond the Government target of 18 weeks, the Trust's inability to cover staff wages and a reduction in nursing levels.

However, the CDDFT's consultant surgeon and surgical care group director is reassuring people that patient safety is central to all discussions in the hospital and that there are no plans to reduce staffing levels.

The internal email was sent out to senior staff following a meeting of the Trust's Financial Stability Programme, which was described as a "maul" after the stark warning was driven home by finance chiefs.

And the news comes just days after it was revealed that maternity services at the hospital could be lost as plans are being investigated to centralise care in Darlington, Durham and North Tees – albeit on a temporary basis.

Today, the full extent of the financial pressures on the hospital's surgical departments can be revealed.

The email reads: "The three of us have to go back in four working days time with a full plan, costed and developed for a further £1.5m pounds of guaranteed CRT in addition to the already identified as an interim to meeting the full amount. So far in month one we are forecasting to be £350k (April) overspent due to not achieving CRT.

"I do not intend to just pass on this message in the same way. You all work hard and I know you are all very hard pushed for time. However, I need urgent and focused work form every one of you to help the senior triumvirate as yesterday's is an experience I have not had before and never want to have again.

"I have been asked to ensure that all staff are fully briefed that if by June we do not have a full plan for CRT and are not completely in control of expenditure that we, CDDFT, will run out of cash to pay wages.

"Whist this has been briefed before I chose not to put it in these terms. I have been asked not to sanitise the message."

But Mr Steve Scott, consultant surgeon and surgical care group director at County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, has reassured people that patients' health will not be put at risk, as the document is not a formal trust plan.

He said: “NHS organisations are working under financial pressure and we regularly review the best way to provide safe efficient patient care. It is worth noting that County Durham & Darlington NHS Foundation Trust ended 2016/17 with a surplus and ahead of our financial plan.

"The document referred to was not a formal trust plan, it reflects the kind of day to day discussions that happen across all organisations and in our case this is to ensure we maximise the use of resources to best meet the need of our patients.

“I would like to reassure patients that during 2016/17 we achieved the national standard of 92 per cent of patients receiving treatment within 18 week of referral to a consultant.

“We have no plans to cut staff, indeed we are actively recruiting to vacancies.”

Jo Land, of 999 Call for the NHS, a national campaign group founded in Darlington, believes that the future of the hospital is being deliberately undermined in an attempt to use 'patient safety' issues as a way of forcing through controversial changes without going through any kind of public scrutiny or consultation.

She said: "We believe that once you start removing or changing specialist treatments at DMH it will destabilise the workforce and result in people leaving and even more services being transferred to other hospitals in the region – we have to fight this."