SOUTHEND Hospital could start offering private treatment in a bid to shore up its finances, it has emerged.

Trust bosses made the suggestion after hearing there were overspends of £12.3million in 2013/14 and a £4.8million financial black hole in the current annual budget.

The hospital is also facing difficulties making cuts and paying creditors on time.

NHS hospitals can now carry out private care for patients, provided it is strictly kept separate from NHS work. However, Southend has yet to take advantage of this.

Alan Tobias, hospital chairman, said: “There is the issue of private practice income and there are a lot of private practice incentives.

“There are restrictions, but we could look to try to deliver services and make sure this is properly under consideration.

“It does not interfere with NHS delivery, but we are not making use of it at the moment.”

Trust bosses, who need to save £45million over five years, were only able to make £9million out of a planned £10.2million cuts last year.

The hospital’s board of directors heard at the end of the last financial year in March the trust was in deficit by £981,000.

It is having urgent talks with Southend and Castle Point Clinical Commissioning Groups over a funding shortfall for the current year of £4.8million.

The lack of cash means it is often taking around 60 days to pay medical and utility companies for services provided.

James O’Sullivan, finance director, who gave a financial update to the board said: “The issue of income from private practice is something we need to pick up on.”

A trust spokeswoman said no further details could be given on the plans.

She said: “At this stage, this was just an expression of interest by the board in exploring the possibility of gaining a further income from private work.

“No plans have yet been drawn up or assessed for viability.”

However, talk of privatisation has concerned Southend Keep the NHS Public.

Secretary Norman Traub said: “Under the 2012 Health and Social Care Bill an NHS Foundation Trust is entitled to draw up to 50 per cent of its revenue from private practice.

“This is a big concern if Southend is going to go down this line, as if I am a wealthy person from here, or another country where the health service is not as good, I will be able to come to Southend which will encourage wealthy patients to use it.

“So you and I who are on the NHS will go to the bottom, because we are not paying.”

In 2010-11 private practice patients treated within NHS hospitals in England generated a total income of £428million.