Anger as Hunt backs hospital downgrade in NHS overhaul

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt
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CAMPAIGNERS have reacted with dismay after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt backed moves to downgrade A&E and maternity services at a Yorkshire hospital.

Emergency patients and women with higher risk births will no longer be treated at Dewsbury and District Hospital once a major reconfiguration of services run by the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is complete in summer 2017, with most instead being seen at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

The plans are part of a major overhaul at the trust which will run up a deficit of around £20 million in 2013-14.

The reconfiguration will make Pontefract and Dewsbury hospitals centres for planned care but is heavily dependent on the development of seven-day-a-week community services.

The downgrade to A&E services is likely to be one of several in the region, with NHS bosses in Calderdale and Huddersfield the latest to announce a review.

The viability of other maternity units could also come under scrutiny, with services in the Dewsbury and Wakefield area likely to change by summer 2016.

Councillors had referred the reconfiguration to Mr Hunt but he accepted advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) and ruled the changes should go ahead.

Batley and Spen Labour MP Mike Wood said: “This is an appalling decision taken without reference to the facts of the case and driven entirely by financial considerations on the part of the trust and a wish to privatise the NHS on the part of the Government.

“I am convinced that as a result of this plan going ahead that Dewsbury and District Hospital will close by 2016. This is bad enough but in the meantime a dangerous situation is being created for the patients at both Dewsbury and Pinderfields hospitals.”

Coun Betty Rhodes, chairman of the Wakefield and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, said she was disappointed but would work with the NHS to improve care. “Our priority is - and always has been - to get the best health services we can for the people of Wakefield and Kirklees,” she said.

But Tory Dewsbury MP Simon Reevell said the changes were backed by local and national clinicians and would save lives.

“I’ve listened to the clinicians and Jeremy Hunt has done the same thing and I think those politicians who think they know better than those who do the operations need to explain why they know better,” he said.

In a letter to Mr Hunt, IRP chairman Lord Ribeiro said the “case for strange is strong”.

“What is needed now is greater assurance for patients, the public and their representatives - assurance generating confidence that the proposed changes have been fully thought through, that the necessary capacity and clinical presence will be available to produce better services and outcomes, and that plans for future hospital services are fully intergrated with plans for care closer to home,” he added.

He noted local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) had made a pledge that “no significant changes to hospital services will be possible or commissioned” until better care closer to home was in place.

In a joint statement, North Kirklees and Wakefield CCGs and Mid Yorkshire bosses said: “This means we can now take forward our plans to re-organise hospital services to significantly improve health outcomes for the people of North Kirklees and Wakefield.”

*More than 6,000 people have signed an online petition saying ‘Hands off Calderdale A&E’ to prevent a downgrading of services in Halifax. The town’s Labour MP Linda Riordan is organising petitions and public meetings opposing changes, with a public meeting at Sowerby Bridge WMW next Saturday and on March 29 at North Bridge Leisure Centre, Halifax.