Hunt must halt race to the bottom

Last week, I spoke to concerned local people, councillors and medical professionals gathered for the meeting of the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee – a meeting that voiced overwhelming criticism of plans to demolish Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. The plan will see hundreds of jobs cut and the hospital replaced by a small centre with no emergency care unit.

It is only right that the committee used their power to throw out the downgrade plan and refer the decision to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. I truly hope he will take note of the real problems with current plans but, sadly, our experience in Dewsbury on that score has been disappointing.

It is only a fortnight ago that Mr Hunt finally admitted that 30% of patients at Dewsbury Hospital’s A&E could be transferred to Pinderfields as a result of the downgrade to services there. I’ve repeatedly invited him to come and see for himself the challenges facing local hospital services, to press him to take action to halt the downgrade to A&E services, sadly to no avail. 

What is devastatingly clear is that the decisions being made right across our region are almost solely financially driven. The government has set unrealistic targets for reducing spending on vital NHS services. Targets that can only be achieved by compromising patient care and safety.

The proposals would effectively see the whole of Kirklees, a population of 420,000 people, without full Accident & Emergency services and with absolutely no provision for acute care, including no intensive care beds. This means that anyone seeking urgent treatment for potentially life threatening conditions would be forced to travel outside the area.

These plans are ambitious to say the least. The whole proposal hinges on increasing provision at GP practices and more care closer to home, in order to reduce hospital admissions by 18% over 5 years. How do the CCG propose to achieve this given the massive cuts to budgets that are being imposed on all NHS services? Even the NHS Transformation Unit has said of these plans that, “few UK health systems have achieved this.”

Hospital admissions are rising year on year and yet these proposals seek to stem the flow with no new money and no clear plan of how this is going to be achieved. At Dewsbury & District Hospital the plan in 2013 was to reduce bed numbers by 250. Four years on and these plans have had to be shelved as it became clear that if they were implemented it would seriously impact on patient safety. Surely the commissioners should be learning from North Kirklees and Wakefield and not trying to push through plans that are so obviously unachievable?

The downgrade of our region’s health services that are being made here and now will not easily be reversed and will be felt for generations to come. It is now time for the Health Secretary to take responsibility for his government’s cuts and mismanagement of our NHS - he must put halt to this race to bottom.

Originally published in The Press 28 July 2017