Huge shake-up in NHS services ‘only delayed’

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HEALTH chiefs have put on hold plans for a major transformation of NHS services in Yorkshire which have triggered a storm of opposition.

But despite the decision by GP leaders in Calderdale and Huddersfield to delay changes to hospital care and instead embark on an expansion of community services, they have warned a shake-up remains inevitable for 400,000 people in the area in the face of rising demand from the sick elderly at a time of staff shortages and dwindling resources.

Similar changes can be expected across the region as The Yorkshire Post launches the latest in our Big Debate series to discuss what people want from the NHS and what the solutions might be.

Outline proposals announced early this year by hospital bosses in Calderdale and Huddersfield set out the scale of the problems facing the local NHS. It must deal with 21st century problems of a growing burden of illness in old age, a national drive to improve the quality and safety of healthcare including seven-day working, and financial constraints which are likely to require more than £160m in savings in the next five years.

Controversy has focused on a move to centre emergency and unplanned care, including full A&E and maternity services, at one hospital in Huddersfield or Halifax, as the other is downsized to focus mainly on planned care.

At the same time, services in the community face being significantly expanded, with rapid response teams visiting the sick at home to prevent them needing hospital care. Major hubs will be set up in Holmfirth and Todmorden to deal with outpatient care, provide tests including X-rays, while specialists will also visit GP surgeries to deliver care closer to home.

The case for a single site providing emergency care received backing from national experts who said it was “the best for the future safety, value and sustainability of healthcare”.

But it triggered a furious reaction in Calderdale after hospital chiefs indicated their preference to centre emergency services at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, which would have 550 beds, while the Calderdale Royal Hospital, which opened only in 2001 and controversially took on responsibility for full maternity services in 2007, would see its beds cut from 450 to fewer than 100.

Any major changes to hospital services will now be delayed even though officials admit this risks a deterioration in the quality of services and driving up costs.

Todmorden’s mayor Coun Michael Gill said the issue for many people in the town was the distance it would leave them from A&E should services be axed in Halifax which could be the “difference between life and death”.

He said: “When we also take into consideration the fact that we have a much-reduced ambulance service in the upper valley, resulting in a possible longer wait for assistance, it would seem inevitable, that given time, the circumstances will unavoidably collide and result in a devastating outcome for local families. The move to Huddersfield for so many departments seems to defy logic. Parking is difficult and the journey to get there is complicated.”

Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS trust chief executive Owen Williams said the primary reason for service reconfiguration was about improving quality of patient care, particularly for growing numbers of those with complex conditions.

“We need to work very closely with primary care and social care providers to make sure as far as possible we are making sure the people who come to hospital are those who really need to come to hospital,” he said.

“I think many people understand that staying as we are doesn’t do it from a patient quality or safety perspective and neither does it do it from a financial perspective.”