Controversial plans to close accident and emergency services at one of the region’s hospitals could be scrapped after the Health Secretary urged NHS chiefs to go back to the drawing board.
MPs last night welcomed Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that the shake-up, which would see Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) knocked down and A&E services centralised in Halifax, was “not in the best interests” of patients.
The proposals, which involve replacing Huddersfield’s hospital with a smaller site, sparked protests and raised safety concerns over longer journey times to hospital.
The plan was referred to Mr Hunt by Calderdale and Huddersfield joint health scrutiny committee last summer and reviewed by the Government’s Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).
Now NHS chiefs will have to reconsider their proposals after the panel’s findings were revealed.
Colne Valley MP Thelma Walker said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has listened to local residents, MPs and the joint health scrutiny committee over the plans to downgrade Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
“For a long time I have argued, alongside campaigners, that these plans are not in the best interests of residents in the Colne Valley constituency or Kirklees, and need to be thrown out.”
Halifax MP Holly Lynch welcomed Mr Hunt’s intervention. But she questioned how hospital services would be funded in future if the proposals – designed to tackle a multi-million-pound budget gap – are scrapped.
She said: “If he agrees that these proposals will not deliver the desired health outcomes, then he needs to find the funding which will keep patients safe and healthy across the two hospitals.”
In his letter to the scrutiny committee, Mr Hunt said the IRP had “observed a wide variety of failings which call into question the benefits of this scheme and the way in which the process has been managed so far.”
The IRP found a “lack of consistency” with the proposals, and “scepticism about whether proposals of this scale and complexity are actually deliverable”.
The proposals involve an expansion of Calderdale Royal Hospital, more planned procedures being carried out at a new facility in Huddersfield and more services being offered outside of hospitals. The new Huddersfield hospital was originally planned to have 120 beds, but that was reduced to 64.
Mr Hunt said there were concerns over the delivery of out-of-hospital services and whether the overall reduction in hospital beds was justified.
He said: “In short, the proposals are not in the best interests of the people of Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield and I would ask the NHS locally and nationally to reconsider.”
The hospital proposals are also subject to a legal challenge after NHS campaigners launched a judicial review. A court hearing was expected in June after action group Hands Off HRI launched the challenge, represented by law firm Irwin Mitchell.
Irwin Mitchell solicitor Yogi Amin said: “The decision of the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt to order a reconsideration of the hospital reconfiguration proposals is welcomed by my clients. He has highlighted the same failings in the decision-making process that we have been highlighting for years as part of our legal campaign.”
‘No change is not an option’
In a joint statement, NHS commissioners and Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have today received a copy of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s report to the Secretary of State and his letter of response.
“We note the views of the IRP. We will work with partners on the three areas requested by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and report back to him in three months.
“We also note that the report acknowledges that no change is not an option and that change is needed to our current two-site services to protect their safety and quality.”