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Thelma Walker: Hands off HRI – the fight for Huddersfield Royal Infirmary will continue

NHS campaigners march through Huddersfield.
NHS campaigners march through Huddersfield.
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SINCE 2014 I have been campaigning alongside residents to prevent the downgrading of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.

We have held rallies and marches, ‘Honk your horn for HRI’ events, leafleted staff and patients, held vigils, and had meetings with the clinical commissioning group and Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust. Today’s lobby of Parliament is the latest event.

I have asked the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about the closure, inviting Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt to meet with me to discuss the issue and to visit the hospital. Both have refused!

The downgrading of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is something that everyone in my local area feels passionately about. HRI is a busy hospital, based in my constituency, which serves the beautiful Colne and Holme Valleys, but also Huddersfield, parts of Dewsbury and a busy section of the M62. It covers 400,000 people. It is appalling that the CCG and NHS trust believe that a town the size of Huddersfield, and the surrounding areas, could – and should – be left without an accident and emergency unit.

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is already stretched to capacity. So, too, is its sister hospital Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax. Both of these hospitals are run by the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust, and at present are working hard to deliver accessible healthcare to people across Kirklees. The proposals put forward would dismantle this service.

If the plans go through, the result will be a reduction of around 300 beds, leaving just 64 for the whole area. Roughly 500 staff will be lost, and some residents could be left with up to a 90-minute drive to the nearest accident and emergency. This simply isn’t good enough.

Whilst the trust will argue that it is about giving the patients the best treatment possible, we know full well that it is about money. It says clearly in their business plan that their new proposed structure would save them money.

These downgrading proposals are symptomatic of a wider national issue. The Government is starving our public services of the funding they need, driven by a hard-line austerity agenda. Local authorities are being forced to choose between vital services, public-sector workers are receiving real-terms pay cuts and schools are losing teachers. Cuts to social care are placing increasing pressure on hospitals and emergency services.

In Kirklees, 35 per cent of the council’s budget is spent on adult social care. If funding for these services is reduced, more people will be using hospitals to care for elderly or vulnerable friends or relatives. If these proposals are enacted, there will only be 64 beds to serve those who are ill, in addition to those who require social care.

Labour’s 2017 manifesto said that we “will halt and review the NHS ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’”, which are looking to close hospitals such as HRI across the country, and will consult local people in their redrawing. The focus would be on patient need rather than available finances.

The privatisation of NHS services would be reversed, and powers of the Secretary of State for Health to have responsibility for the NHS would be reinstated. Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jonathan Ashworth MP, said that it is Labour’s commitment that Huddersfield should have the high-quality, fully staffed hospital care that patients need, in a statement read at a demonstration in December.

It is important to remember that the NHS, in its 70th year, is a healthcare system which is respected worldwide, often held up as a beacon of what a comprehensive and free-at-the-point-of-use health care system should be like.

When it was set up, it revolutionised our country. It helped remove divides between the have and have-nots and for the first-time poor children were less likely to die from curable illnesses than those from wealthy households. We cannot let our NHS be dismantled, nor can we let those seeking to profit from the sick and vulnerable, and as long as there are people who will fight for it, the fight will continue.

The future of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is now with the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, following referral from the Health Secretary. Residents, local healthcare professionals, my fellow Kirklees MPs and I are pushing for a full review of the business case, and will continue to fight for our hospital.

Thelma Walker is MP for the Colne Valley.