Vulnerable in isolated Yorkshire communities ‘at great risk in NHS shake-up’

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HEALTH CHIEFS have been warned the elderly and vulnerable living in some of Yorkshire’s most isolated communities will be at grave risk under a controversial re-organisation of the NHS, enforced to plug a multi-billion pound financial blackhole nationally.

The Government is instigating a radical shake-up of services, aimed at accelerating a five-year efficiency plan of the NHS to improve healthcare while also curbing a massive overspend.

However, members on an influential committee at North Yorkshire County Council have claimed the so-called Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), which cover 44 different areas of the country, had been rushed through and were modelled around the needs of urban areas, threatening to leach health funds from rural districts.

The council’s health scrutiny committee yesterday passed a unanimous resolution to call for an urgent meeting with health leaders responsible for the 
STPs to discuss the future of services.

The committee’s chairman, Coun Jim Clark, warned that the STP planning process is “overly focused upon short-term savings targets” and is being rushed through with little engagement with the public.

He added: “We recognise that the NHS has to change.

“The costs that the NHS faces are rising year-on-year as people live longer and need long-term treatment for multiple and complex health needs. As such, the STP process is welcomed in principle as it presents an opportunity to look afresh at how health, social care, public health and community services are planned and delivered.

“However, we believe the STPs as they are currently defined represent a missed opportunity – they are overly focused on concentrating acute services and short term savings targets rather than on prevention and effective care provision in local communities.

“There is no connection between the two.

“We are therefore calling for 
an urgent meeting with STP leaders to discuss all of these concerns.”

North Yorkshire is one of only very few counties that are covered by three STP plans – each based around large urban areas such as Leeds and Bradford, Middlesbrough, and Hull.

Coun Clark warned that the focus for planning services is likely to be upon large acute hospitals outside of the county and not necessarily upon the more local health services in place in North Yorkshire.

Members of the council’s health scrutiny committee were told the financial blackhole the three STPs are expected to bridge by April 2021 was estimated to be £1,750m. The committee members maintained that the only way that the financial targets could be realistically achieved would be through significant cuts to health services.

Last week, concerns were raised about the future of Darlington Memorial Hospital at a meeting of the county council. Early proposals considered by the STP may mean accident and emergency and consultant-led maternity and paediatric services at the hospital could be downgraded.

Council leaders have expressed fears that if the services are lost, patients in some of Yorkshire’s most rural communities could be faced with travelling 60 miles to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough for critical care.

Coun Clark said: “Any downgrading of services at Darlington Memorial Hospital would have a real impact upon people in North Yorkshire as they would be expected to travel to Middlesbrough to get the help they need.

“What is being considered for Darlington Memorial Hospital also raises concerns that other, local services may be downgraded elsewhere in the county.”

The three STPs covering North Yorkshire include one focused on Durham, Darlington and the Tees as well as Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby, with another covering the Humber, the coast and Vale of York, and a final plan for West Yorkshire and Harrogate.

The Department of Health stressed draft plans have been produced by health and care leaders and no decisions about reconfiguring services will be made without local consultation.

A spokeswoman added: “We need an NHS ready for the future – sustainability and transformation plans will help ensure the best standards of care, with local doctors, hospitals and councils working in conjunction with local communities for the first time.”