Hospitals

I went to the Headquarters of the Primary Care Trust in Worthing at 8.30 am on Tuesday morning with a heavy heart, knowing that at least two of the three hospitals serving my constituents would lose some services.

We had already received both good and bad news for the Princess Royal, which will now keep its Accident & Emergency Services but lose its consultant-led maternity unit.

Now we know that St Richard's will lose services which will be centralised at Worthing - consultant-led maternity, inpatient paediatrics and emergency surgery.

The PCT told us that the decision was "pretty finely balanced".  That didn't soften the blow.  Of course I am pleased that Worthing has not lost services, but I am dismayed for St Richard's.  These plans are horribly divisive, pitching one hospital and community against another.

I protested that the PCT did not give us details showing how the changes would affect patients, and they sent them later.  On the upside, 90 per cent of A&E cases will still be treated at St Richard's - better than originally proposed.  But this still means that over 5,000 patients a year will now be taken to Portsmouth or Worthing.

Of the more than 4,700 mothers who would have had babies in the Princess Royal or St Richard's, over 3,800 - eight out of ten - will now travel out of West Sussex altogether, to Portsmouth, Surrey, Kent, Eastbourne and Brighton.  So the West Sussex PCT is hollowing out services in its own county.

The danger is that St Richard's will be further damaged by a progressive 'salami slicing' of its services.  The PCT, and the clinicians who have supported their decisions, have a heavy responsibility to the local community to ensure that this does not happen and that St Richard's continues to serve the community.  They will not be forgiven if they allow one of the best hospitals in the country to die.