HOSPITAL bosses will claim back the £2.5 million they were forced to pay out in penalties for treating too many emergency patients.

NHS paymasters have been withholding 70 per cent of the tariff for each emergency hospital admission above an agreed threshold – but cash-strapped hospital chiefs want their money back.

However, NHS Worcestershire, the primary care trust, has declined to pay the bill because of ‘national rules’ but will be supporting the hospital trust by providing £10 million worth of support for service improvements, including £3.65 million directly linked to emergency care.

The tariff refers to the cost of care for each patient treated in a hospital bed and the idea is to reinvest the withheld money in spreading the burden between hospitals and the community, for example by providing care in GP surgeries, community hospitals or even in people’s own homes.

Hospital leaders are backed by the strategic heath authority, which has urged local NHS leaders not to dock the cash from the hospital trust.

Chris Tidman, finance director at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said he was expecting that the £2.5 million would be returned, easing financial pressure on the trust at a time when services have come under increasing strain from higher than expected volumes of emergency patients.

Worcestershire hospitals have had a 13.7 per cent rise in emergency demand for the first six months of the 2012/13 financial year compared to the same period last year.

Mr Tidman said: “I’m assuming they’re going to pay that back for the first six months of the financial year. It’s right they [NHS Worcestershire] should pay it.

"I know they have financial challenges but we have financial challenges and we can’t be left in a position where, as a provider of last resort, people turn up at a hospital but we’re not being paid properly to provide care.

"The concern for the commissioners is they don’t want to end up always paying 100 per cent of the tariff for what they fear could be a continued increase in emergency work.”

Mr Tidman said talks were now taking place with commissioners to reach a settlement and develop affordable ways of managing increased emergency demand, including emergency admission avoidance schemes to prevent people coming to hospital in the first place where possible.

A forum has been set up involving GPs and other clinicians to help manage emergency demand better.