AN investigation has been launched after the discovery that £3.8 million is “unaccounted for” at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

A team of experts from accountancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) has been drafted in by health bosses to probe the finances at the beleaguered hospital following the discovery.

The Bolton News has revealed the Royal Bolton must save £20 million this financial year and more than £50 million over the next three years.

At the end of this financial year, hospital chiefs were expecting a £1.9 million surplus — but instead found a £1.9 million deficit.

This latest revelation comes just days after a health watchdog criticised the hospital in a second damning report, and placed its finances under “red risk”.

Monitor also took the unusual step of intervening in the running of the hospital, the first time this year it has invoked its formal powers of intervention in a hospital trust.

The watchdog appointed an interim chairman, David Wakefield, who started his position on Tuesday, August 7, and has ordered the hospital to appoint a turnaround sirector and external advisers.

Unions and councillors are now demanding to know what has happened to the £3.8 million.

The hospital’s Council of Governors is believed to have been informed about the financial situation in a private meeting.

Accounting errors are thought to be behind the missing money.

The cash is not thought to have been stolen, but is believed to have been mistakenly spent on healthcare within the hospital after miscalculations in savings were made.

One-off departmental savings are thought to have been marked as recurrent savings, which led to huge discrepancies within the accounts.

Heather Edwards, head of communications at the hospital, said: “A full financial governance review is currently under way, however there is no evidence to suggest that any money has been misappropriated from the Trust.”

A spokesman for the hospital said the £1.9 million deficit had been “unexpected” by the board and had led to the internal review.

They added a shortfall in cost savings targets and cuts to revenue had affected the hospital’s finances.

The spokesman added: “Patient safety and quality of care remain our number one priority and will not be compromised in any way as we implement the actions required to safeguard the future of our Trust.”

PwC said they were unable to comment on work with clients.

Its investigation is expected to be completed by the end of September.

A spokesman for Monitor confirmed it had intervened because of a “deterioration in the Trust’s financial position underpinned by weaknesses in financial governance and financial control”.

The spokesman said Monitor was not aware of an investigation into the unaccounted for money and added: “External advisers are carrying out a review of the deterioration of the financial position in 2011/12 and we expect the interim chairman to address the recommendations of this review.

“Monitor does have a whistle-blowing policy and should an individual have any issue they wish to raise with us they should do so.”

Dr Wirin Bhatiani, chairman of the Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, which manages the majority of the town’s health budget, said: “The foundation trust has recently announced a significant financial challenge for this financial year, and potentially continuing into future years.

“We are working very closely with the foundation trust to gain a greater understanding of the issues, and the potential impact on the CCG’s commissioning plans.

“Our objective, once we fully understand the position, is to devise a jointly-agreed recovery plan. We will be supportive to the foundation trust, and challenging where appropriate.

“The overriding concern of both the CCG and the foundation trust is to protect the quality of services to patients.”

Cllr Andy Morgan, who sits on the Health, Overview and Scrutiny board, added: “It is completely unacceptable that a so called “accounting error” off this magnitude happens in the current economic climate when every penny counts.

“Questions need to be asked of the Director of Finance, and the board, the management team and its new chairman need to do everything in their power to restore the trust placed in them by the CCG and Health and Wellbeing Board, but more importantly the staff and public.”

Harry Hanly, branch secretary for Unison at the hospital, said: “It is disappointing for us because we thought we had hit our targets on savings and even done better than expected.

“Somebody has got to feel the backlash of this because it is incompetancy.”