JOBS and services are at risk at Dorset County Hospital as trust chiefs struggle to find millions of pounds’ worth of savings.

The flagship Dorchester hospital could be forced to find savings of as much as £8million over the next 18 months and campaigners claim it is in danger of losing its prestigious Foundation status if this is not achieved.

Bosses are drawing up a stringent recovery plan following a ‘disappointing’ performance in 2008/09 which left the trust £1.83million in the red at the end of its first full year as a Foundation Trust.

A difficult winter which saw record increases in emergency admissions were among the reasons given for the huge deficit.

Writing in the annual report which was discussed at this week’s AGM, trust chairman Robin SeQueira warned that the trust would ‘have to do better.’ He said managing A&E activity and emergency admissions, notably in the winter, is still an issue and that reducing reliance on agency staff and speeding up the appointment of permanent staff needed to be ‘urgently addressed.’ The amount of savings which have to be found over the next 18 months has not been released, but the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for South Dorset Richard Drax understands it is between £6million and £8million.

Mr Drax said: “You don’t need to be an Einstein to realise that savings of this scale on a small budget of £145million will inevitably threaten jobs and services.”

Mr Drax said he understands the pressure of meeting Government targets, the hospital employing more staff to support cleanliness initiatives, the bed-blocking problem last year, an increase in A&E activity, plus property investments losing money all contributed to the hospital’s financial difficulties.

He added: “On top of all this is the Government’s inadequate resource allocation formula which fails to give sufficient weight to factors like an ageing population.”

Mr Drax said if the savings are not found the hospital could lose its ‘hard-won’ Foundation status.

Trust patient governor Andy Hutchings said: “We must ensure that patient services and jobs are protected but it will be a challenging year.”

Despite the problems highlighted in the annual report, trust bosses believe there were reasons to celebrate last year.

These include the hospital being placed in the top 20 per cent of trusts over a range of quality indicators, the hospital being rated fifth best in the country for the quality of its food, and maternity services described as ‘best performing’ in the Healthcare Commission Review.

But Mr SeQueira admitted today the trust was facing a ‘very challenging financial problem’ and that a ‘range of options’ were being considered.

He said: “Whatever is proposed will be subject to full discussion with our workforce and council of governors.

“Proposals for change will be finalised this autumn.”