Linda Riordan: Backlash is just beginning over A&E axe

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WHAT kind of National Health Service should people expect in their local communities as we move through the 21st century?

That is the question thousands of people in Halifax and Calderdale are rightly asking after plans to axe the local A&E were revealed. There has been a public backlash of an unprecedented nature against this outrageous proposal.

It is the now the biggest issue facing Halifax since the banking crisis threatened to rip the heart out of the town. Six years on from those dark days, we now face another huge challenge.

It is a challenge that communities across the town are accepting in increasing numbers. I have never known an issue unite the town in such a positive way.

There have already been thousands of names added to petitions calling for the A&E to be saved at Calderdale Royal Hospital.

Marches, rallies and public meetings have been organised across the district. People are sending a clear message ‘Hands off our A&E’. This is a campaign that can – and must –be won.

But why has the closure proposal been put forward?

It’s difficult to get a clear answer. Obviously there is a wider Government agenda of health cuts taking place, and the closing of some A&Es is part of that cost-cutting exercise.

However, there are mixed messages being given out. On the one hand we are told that too many people are using A&E, on the other that people should not be using casualty at all.

Soon many of my constituents won’t have a choice. It will be a case of making the 40 minute journey to Huddersfield, or going for an appointment with a GP.

It baffles me how closing a local A&E can actually improve the health needs of the local community. Soon Calderdale Royal Hospital, which only opened 15 years ago, could be in danger of becoming a glorified GPs’ surgery.

Accident and emergency departments across the country do a fantastic job in dealing with emergencies and, yes, saving people’s lives. The hospital in Halifax is no different in that respect.

Yet people who I represent could soon lose that important service and be forced out of Calderdale to access accident and emergency treatment. Is that a sensible health policy? Of course it isn’t.

This issue has been handled appallingly. For some time it has been one of the worst kept secrets that the A&E in Halifax was faced with the axe.

Yet, for months, the Government and health bosses refused to set out their plans. Even now, there is a half-baked consultation proposal which doesn’t even include an option of ‘no change’. That isn’t a proper consultation.

This issue goes to the heart of health provision in the 21st century.

We are gradually seeing the removal of local health services to more regional-based health systems, such as the attempt to close the excellent Leeds children’s heart unit.

If someone has an emergency, people want to be able to access a hospital in the area they live. Journeys from communities like Shelf, Mixenden, Todmorden and Wainstalls to Huddersfield can be horrendous, with numerous bottlenecks to overcome. Has this really been thought through properly? I suspect not, and the backlash from an outraged public has only just begun.

We have always had a National Health Service to be proud of in this country. A health service that provides for people, free at the point of need, 24 hours a day.

Forcing people to drive to Huddersfield to access emergency treatment couldn’t be further from the ideals, values and vision of a caring health policy.

The campaign to save the A&E in Halifax has only just begun. We can take heart from the excellent campaigns to save the Leeds children’s heart unit and Lewisham Hospital that these battles can be won.

The A&E is a key part of our excellent Calderdale Royal Hospital. It has helped save thousands of lives.

The community is uniting to ensure future generations of Calderdale people can have a local accident and emergency centre to be proud of.

Health policy should be about saving lives, not saving money. We must save A&Es that are threatened with closure and ensure our NHS continues to serve local communities and not the cost cutting agenda of health bosses and the Government.

Linda Riordan is the Labour MP for Halifax.