No excuse for A&E secrecy

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IF there is no threat to the future of A&E services at Calderdale Royal Infirmary, why was this possibility discussed on the floor of the House of Commons this week?

The reason, according to Halifax MP Linda Riordan, is this. There is “a strategic document” available on the future of local NHS services and concerns are growing about the secrecy surrounding this review process.

This is not good enough. If any review into a service as critical as A&E is to command the widest possible confidence, it needs to be open and transparent.

It remains to be seen how Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust responds to these fears – the Parliamentary debate was a poor reflection of the organisation’s management.

Nor did it enhance the reputation of Jane Ellison, the Health Minister, who did concede that a review was underway. Although she talked about the need of any “reconfiguration” of services meeting four key criteria, she was quick to point out that such matters needed to be reconciled locally.

Her point is valid – too many major decisions are taken in London – but it was also complacent because the Minister ignored the history of healthcare in this area.

Calderdale Royal Hospital only opened in April 2001 following a review of care and the decision to focus the area’s care needs on one site. Yet, in the intervening 13 years, demand for A&E services has not diminished. It has only increased, in part because of the breakdown in out-of-hours care by GPs presided over by the last Labour government.

And this is why the secrecy and mistrust is arousing so much suspicion – just how are patients, and their families, expected to travel to Huddersfield, or elsewhere, when so many casualty units are already facing serious staff and bed shortages?

The NHS, like every other public service, is having to evolve and Calderdale Royal Infirmary is no exception. But this does not excuse the lack of clarity or consultation, a failure which totally undermines the Health Minister’s assertion that emergency services could be provided “in a more imaginative and responsive way”. If so, how? That is the unanswered question which goes to the heart of this issue.

Speak English or lose benefit claims

THE Government’s willingness to take on the EU over migrants is a reflection of the growing electoral threat that is posed by Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party ahead of next year’s European elections.

Yet it is also a conversation that should have taken place years ago rather than Ministers trying to act on the eve of Britain opening its borders to a new wave of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria.

If a Briton chose to take advantage of the EU’s freedom of movement laws, they would expect – and be expected – to speak the language of their new country, whether it be France or Romania. They would also expect – and be expected – to undergo certain checks before making any claim for welfare entitlement.

Why, therefore, should this country not ask migrants to embrace the language of the land and meet certain requirements before they can benefit from the enduring benevolence of the UK’s welfare system?

Such an approach is not anti-migrant. This newspaper has repeatedly acknowledged the contribution that foreign nationals have made to the vitality and economy of this country. Without overseas labour, the NHS would grind to a very quick halt. And it is invariably young people from the EU’s accession countries who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and accept menial jobs, a point made this week by former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose when he bemoaned the work ethic of Britain’s young unemployed.

That said, it makes eminent sense for future welfare claimants to prove that they can speak English – the reluctance of some Asian communities to embrace the language has become a significant, and costly, hindrance to the process of multi-culturalism. The challenge is whether the Government can make its new hardline approach work in practice. If it cannot, it will only strengthen the electoral hand of all those who complain that Britain is subservient to the EU.

Cheers to the spirit of Rowntree

HOME to the Quaker philanthropist and social reformer Joseph Rowntree, York has always been proud of its liberal values and this was self-evident yesterday when civic leaders raised a glass to the opening of the new Ye Olde Shambles Tavern which intends to support 16 micro-breweries from across Yorkshire.

However, this venture is not just about the continued good health of this county’s resurgent real ale industry. It is also about giving the young jobless a chance to learn about the craft of brewing – and the need to provide an exemplary service to customers taking time out to enjoy a reinvigorating pint to quench their thirst.

A type of venture that is in keeping with the timeless spirit of Rowntree whose vision continues to contribute towards York’s social appeal, it is also the kind of social enterprise that has the potential to make a lasting difference to the young people involved with this venture.

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