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NHS regulators today intervened in the hospital trust that runs one of London’s four major trauma centres in a bid to avert financial meltdown and tackle delays in treating patients.

Monitor, the watchdog for self-governing foundation trusts, ordered immediate improvements at St George’s Healthcare only five months after it was allowed to run its own affairs.

The move is embarrassing for St George’s, which features in the Channel 4 TV documentary 24 Hours in A&E, and comes amid fears it is on course for a £46.2 million deficit – the third worst among foundation trusts.

The trust runs St George’s hospital, in Tooting, and Queen Mary’s in Roehampton and is the largest healthcare provider in south west London, caring for 1.3 million people. It has repeatedly missed the four-hour A&E target and 18-week deadline to refer patients for planned operations, as well as the 62-day cancer treatment deadlines.

It has insufficient capacity to ease the backlog of operations and a shortage of funding. At one stage it was feared its losses, which were £16.8 million in 2014/15, could reach £75 million by next March. Today it declared itself a “distressed provider” as it sought bail-out funds.

This is the second intervention by Monitor in south west London after ordering improvements two weeks ago at Kingston hospital, where an £8.8 million deficit is feared.

Mark Turner, regional director at Monitor said: “St George’s faces some serious financial challenges and needs to act decisively, so that patients can continue to receive quality healthcare.

“Our action is designed to support the trust in getting a better grip on its finances by improving their financial management and planning.

“These steps if implemented effectively and promptly should enable the trust to stabilise its financial position and improve how it is run.”

St George’s said in a statement:

Our board of directors acknowledges these findings by Monitor and has agreed a series of actions with the regulator to ensure the trust has robust recovery plans in place.

The trust is committed to establishing a stronger financial footing and is revisiting its current £43m saving plans and to identify new areas of cost improvement and income growth.

Tighter controls for budget holders, reduced use of temporary staff and a more focused approach to recruitment is already having a positive impact on the finances. In addition, staff have submitted nearly 100 ideas on how to improve efficiency and reduce waste whilst keeping patient care as their priority.

Chief Executive Miles Scott said: “The decline in our operational and financial performance occurred at a time when the NHS nationally – particularly hospital trusts – was under a great deal of pressure. Whilst these operational pressures may have hit us harder than other trusts, we take full responsibility for getting the trust back on track financially.

“We have a challenging time ahead of us and are adamant that our increased focus on figures will not be at the expense of quality.

“Patient safety remains paramount. I am proud that we continue to have low mortality rates, impressive results in the national stroke services audit, and – from our most recent CQC inspection – a rating of ‘good’ for our services overall, with some being highlighted as ‘outstanding’.

“We continue to strive for high standards and have confirmed a series of quality checks to sit alongside our saving plans. These will ensure that efficiencies will not compromise the care our staff provide.”