IF THE finances of the NHS are in such rude health, the proposition made by Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions when she defended the Government’s record levels of spending, why is Huddersfield Royal Infirmary’s A&E unit threatened with closure?
This fundamental question goes to the heart of today’s meeting of National Health Service chiefs in Calderdale when they will decide whether casualty services in this part of Yorkshire should now be centralised at Halifax or not.
Mrs May says such matters should be a matter for local communities – she refused to rule out the further closure of A&E units during this Parliament when health spending will total half a trillion pounds – while decision-makers say their hand is being forced by historic PFI costs incurred when Calderdale Hospital was built under Gordon Brown’s flawed private finance initiative.
Neither stance is correct. Such decisions must be taken in the best interests of patients and a convincing case has still to be made for downgrading Huddersfield’s A&E department and leaving such a large university town without casualty cover.
This is compounded by the length of time that it can take patients – and 999 ambulances – to travel from Huddersfield to Halifax during inclement weather, particularly in winter, or when there is gridlock on the M62.
As such, Mrs May – and her health ministers – should consider the issue from this viewpoint: would they sit on their hands, and do nothing, if a comparable A&E unit in their own constituency was proposed for closure? Given that they would be leading the fight against any such plans, they must now make sure that Huddersfield is treated no differently – patient safety, the number one priority, demands nothing less and it is regrettable that neither Mrs May, nor Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, mentioned this fact when they traded statistics at PMQs.
‘Bed-blockers’ are NHS victims
THE more partisan exchanges at PMQs over NHS spending followed a more measured dialogue between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over the mentally ill – and the level of services available to sufferers.
In the aftermath of World Mental Health Day, which coalesced locally around the successful #SpeakYourMind social media campaign, it is refreshing that MPs can speak with candour on this issue. There was a time, not very recently, when such interventions would have been greeted by immature tittering from some.
And while cross-party political co-operation since 2010 has led to greater awareness, it is a genuine and lingering source for concern that 40 per cent of mental health trusts have reported budget cuts. He might not be thanked by his restless backbenchers, but Mr Corbyn was more than justified in raising this issue and those disturbing instances where patients have to be detained in police cells because of a shortage of specialist hospital beds.
Like social care of the elderly where increased demand for such services has coincided with significant budget cuts on the part of local authorities, spending on mental health has not enjoyed protected status during successive spending reviews.
Yet, unless the Department of Health and local NHS bodies look to protect such expenditure, hospitals will come under even greater pressure this winter because a disproportionate number of beds will be occupied by the elderly or mentally ill with nowhere else to go. They’re not ‘bed-blockers’, the rather disparaging term now used to describe such individuals. They’re victims of successive governments failing to deliver a joined-up health policy.
Leeds is top of the shops: John Lewis milestone
ANOTHER day and another landmark in Yorkshire’s resurgence, this time the long-awaited opening of department store John Lewis’s flagship new branch in the prestige Victoria Gate development in the heart of Leeds.
Further evidence of the strength of the retail sector as investment in the Leeds City Region alone in the last five years tops £1bn, there’s now even less reason for shoppers to head over the Pennines and spend their money in Manchester.
Yet council chiefs and business leaders across the region need to remember that the retail success story is also attributable to the variety of shops on the high street – and the vitality of independent stores that provide so much added value. They should not lose sight of this as Leeds marks another milestone in the transformation of its city centre to strengthen, still further, its status as one of this country’s premier shopping and leisure destinations.