Councillors fear a ‘hurricane’ of health care cuts

Vital services for thousands of hospital patients are under threat from a “hurricane” of cuts that could hit North Yorkshire next year and leave it an “NHS-free zone”, council leaders warned yesterday.

A “long list” of options drawn up for potential cuts in the county – exclusively revealed by the Yorkshire Post last month – included plans to axe A&E services at night and end consultant-led maternity care at Scarborough Hospital, forcing pregnant women at risk of complications to travel further afield to give birth.

Health chiefs say they have “no plans to close A&E or maternity services” in the town and will reveal full proposals for a major reconfiguration of services across North Yorkshire next month.

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But Scarborough Council leaders – who called an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the threats to care – said they fear any reprieve may only be temporary.

The meeting heard that historically the Scarborough, Whitby, and Malton areas had suffered from cuts due to under-funding per head of population and the refusal to write off the debts that had severely affected hospital services on the Yorkshire coast.

Now there are concerns changes to the NHS could bring the crisis to a head early next year.

New GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) which will take over the purse strings from primary care trusts (PCTs) from April will no longer be under the wing of the regional health authority and there would be no safety net if they could not balance their books, the meeting was told.

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Labour leader Coun Eric Broadbent said: “There is a massive hurricane coming over Staxton Hill and it is heading straight for our hospital.

“I fear postcode lotteries, cuts to patient care, and whole departments being relocated to York.”

His motion calling for a showdown with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was unanimously backed by councillors.

He said it was vital the CCGs did not make the same mistake as the PCTs of inheriting millions of pounds of debts.

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Whitby had already seen health services “wither away” and there had also been cuts to Malton and maternity services in the community, Coun Broadbent said.

He added: “The threat to Scarborough may have been kicked into the long grass but for how long? I’m prepared to fight this all the way.”

Tory Council leader Coun Tom Fox underlined criticisms by other politicians in North Yorkshire that the PCT was “demob happy” and “using a scorched earth policy to achieve eye-watering savings”.

He added: “We do not want North Yorkshire to become an NHS-free zone.

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“It’s a monstrous situation. We have to remain vigilant because sooner or later – and probably sooner – organisations within the NHS will return to try to make savings by cutting services at Scarborough Hospital.”

The meeting heard the A&E department treated 20,000 patients this year, of which 28 needed hospital admission each day.

More than 1,700 babies were born in the consultant-led maternity unit, 181 of them by emergency Caesarian section.

Coun Bill Chatt said; “Are we going to let Scarborough people die in ambulances down the A64? If you are having a heart attack you need treatment straight away.”

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Coun Jane Kenyon said fear of diminishing health care among the elderly was now worse than the fear of crime.

Health chiefs will unveil details of their long-awaited plans for a wholesale reconfiguration of care in North Yorkshire next month.

They say they have no plans to close any hospitals or create a single maternity and paediatric unit for the county – although the long list did not propose that.

There is likely to be a big increase in care in the community as services are shifted out of expensive hospitals to allow patients to remain at home, leading to a significant cut of hundreds of hospital beds.

Some of the options are likely to require full public consultation before they are implemented.