The finances of Lazios public health service are close to 2 billion in the red. Back in May, shortly after his election, regional president Piero Marrazzo raised concerns about the hole in the budget for the azienda sanitaria locale (local health service provider) and the regions public hospitals. Outgoing president Francesco Storace had budgeted for a 433 million deficit in 2003, followed by 426 million in 2004. However, unconfirmed reports in Italian daily Corriere della Sera, based on a provisional budget report, estimate the shortfall at 700 million for 2003 and 800 million for 2004. Per capita spending has risen from 1,467 in 2002 to 1,668 in 2004 and with spiralling spending levels on medicines the highest of Italys 20 regions and hospital care showing no sign of abating, this years forecast of a 425 million deficit also looks over-optimistic. The result is likely to be a cut in the number of hospital beds. Regional health minister Augusto Battaglia recently admitted as much when he said: By 2007, 5,000 hospital beds for those with acute illnesses will have to be cut, reducing the number of beds per inhabitant to 3.5, well below the national average of 4.4.