Health trust chief accused of playing politics in cuts row

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THE chairman of a financially-stricken health trust has been accused of playing politics over controversial NHS cuts after claiming councillors are pandering to the electorate ahead of elections next year.

The proposed overhaul of maternity and paediatric services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton has provoked a wave of opposition.

But Kevin McAleese, the chairman of the county’s primary care trust, NHS North Yorkshire and York, which is battling to contain losses originally forecast to hit £19m by March next year, 
has written a strongly-worded statement which he is due to present to a board meeting next Tuesday.

He has claimed public engagement has achieved “very little” despite wide-ranging consultations and made thinly-veiled accusations that county councillors are trying to win over voters ahead of local elections in May next year.

In the statement, he said: “Some observers are seeing a connection between the timing of political opposition to the proposals in Northallerton and the impending county council elections in May 2013, which is all a matter for the local population.”

Coun Jim Clark, the chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s influential scrutiny of health committee, said: “It is disgraceful how out of touch the chairman of the PCT appears to be.

“A non-elected chairman of a public body should not be making comments such as these, and he obviously does not understand democracy. Our job is to represent the people of North Yorkshire, and there are very strong feelings against these proposals.”

The planned overhaul would see the end of 24-hour consultant cover for paediatrics at the hospital, which would have a knock-on impact on maternity care.

NHS leaders rejected calls to keep consultant-led services amid claims they are not clinically sustainable owing to staffing and recruitment issues. But it was announced last month a consultation on the plans had been postponed as councillors have pledged to refer the issue to the Health Secretary.

The Scrutiny of Health Committee is holding a public meeting in Northallerton this evening to discuss the proposals.