A PREDICTED £2.9m deficit at the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has sparked an investigation by the financial watchdog.

The Trust, which has a planned income of £288m for this financial year, is set to end it with the deficit due to the ever increasing demand on services, in particular the accident and emergency department.

The decline in the Trust’s financial situation, which last year saw a surplus of £240,000, mirrors the picture across the country, with foundation trusts in the first few months of the financial year running up a deficit of nearly £500m.

Yesterday, it was announced that sector regulator Monitor is investigating the trust in a bid to improve the financial situation.

Although the trust has put plans in place to improve the situation, the watchdog wants to understand whether more should be done to tackle the problem in the long term.

Laura Mills, deputy regional director at Monitor, said: “Great Western Hospital is facing a difficult financial situation, and we need to find out why.

“We are investigating to find out how we can help the trust to fix these problems, and whether we need to take further action on behalf of patients.”

Chief executive of the Trust, Nerissa Vaughan, said there are several reasons behind the predicted deficit, which all relate to an extremely high and growing demand on services.

She said: “This year we are working hard to manage a 15 per cent increase in unplanned activity compared to last year. This means we are now treating around 300 more unplanned patients each month.

“At the same time, we are also spending money on agency staff, which is expensive, but necessary, to ensure we have the right number of staff, in the right places.

“However, due to a national shortage, recruiting nurses in particular is a real challenge.

“We have plans in place to reduce our deficit, but the remainder of the year will be a challenge.

“We know it’ll be a tough winter and I want to thank our staff who work tirelessly to maintain high quality services for patients.”

Nerissa added that no concerns have been raised by Monitor about the patient services at the trust, or the quality of care provided to patients.

“In fact despite these challenges, we have maintained strong performance, good services and high quality patient care,” she added.

“Even with 600 more people attending our emergency department between July and September compared with the same period last year, we managed to treat 96.7 per cent of patients within four hours of arrival.

“During this time, we also significantly reduced the number of patients who have been waiting over 18 weeks for their operation.

“None of this would be possible without our fantastic staff.’’

No decision has yet been made by Monitor on whether further action will be needed but the outcome will be announced once the investigation is finally completed.