Row over future of crisis-hit NHS deepens after meeting ‘snub’

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A BITTER row over the future of health services in North Yorkshire escalated yesterday as local authority leaders hit out at NHS chiefs over their handling of controversial changes.

Furious bosses at local authorities in the county criticised senior health officials over their failure to attend a meeting to discuss threats posed by upcoming NHS cuts. It comes amid a rapid breakdown in relations between political leaders and top officials at the county’s soon-to-be-abolished primary care trust (PCT), who are drawing up plans which will see NHS services radically downsized.

Details leaked to the Yorkshire Post indicate key services at local hospitals could be axed and hundreds of beds lost in a reorganisation due to be unveiled within weeks but relations have further deteriorated over a row about the future of maternity services at Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital.

Coun John Weighell, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council and chairman of Local Government North Yorkshire and York, said: “The PCT is in an extremely serious financial state, with many of its most highly valued services under review and in some cases threatened with closure.

“It is essential that the elected representatives of the people who use those services should have an input into the decision-making process. The failure of the PCT to attend our meeting does not give us confidence that the issues will be addressed in the way in which they deserve.”

Kevin McAleese, chairman of NHS North Yorkshire and York, branded claims “unfair, inaccurate and unhelpful”. He and his chief executive had been unable to attend the meeting but had offered to meet at another time.

“For many months we have been leading in-depth discussion with partners, including senior representatives from both North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council, to address the significant financial challenges currently being faced by the local health economy,” he said.

“It is simply nonsense to say that we ‘failed to attend’ and that we are somehow unwilling to engage with the councils. Together we are dealing with major challenges arising from the pressure on public finances and our ageing population to which there are no easy or simple answers.”

Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith last night described as “promising” talks with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make the case for more funding to tackle cash shortfalls in the county.

Details of NHS funding in 2013-14 will be unveiled next week amid speculation cash could be directed to areas with older populations which will favour North Yorkshire, as well as the South.