MPs unite to speak out against Sussex hospital downgrading
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has lambasted the Government and the West Sussex Primary Care Trust on their plans to downgrade two of West Sussex’s three acute hospitals.
Nick was speaking in a debate in the House of Commons which he called on Wednesday (4 July), two weeks after the West Sussex PCT launched its long-awaited public consultation on the future of West Sussex's hospitals.
The debate came on the same day that the new Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced a review of the NHS but refused to halt consultations on local reconfigurations.
Fellow West Sussex MPs Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton), Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham), Francis Maude (Horsham), Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) and Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) added their voices to the debate.
Nick started his speech by pointing out how the PCT's "justification for the proposals has fundamentally changed." He said that the argument that reconfiguration was needed to ensure a "financially sustainable healthcare system" in West Sussex had been demolished by the Trust's own figures which show "that in five years' time, in 2012-13, the local health care economy ... will end up with an annual surplus of £52 million."
Highlighting how "the argument now turns on whether there is a clinical case for downgrading our hospitals", Mr Herbert said that the clinical basis for reconfiguration was disputed at both a national and a local level.
Mr Herbert went on to draw the Minister's attention to local concerns "that, far from there being a greater provision of local services, which we were promised as part of the reconfiguration, services will be taken further away from the local community."
Travel times and access to services are a particular worry in a large rural county like West Sussex where over one fifth of the population is aged 65 years or over. This compares to an average of 16 per cent in England and Wales.
Concluding his speech, Mr Herbert spoke of the "sense of anger in my constituency and throughout West Sussex about how local people are being treated" and urged the Minister to "recognise local people's concerns about the issue and how the justification for the downgrading of our local hospitals has shifted and been undermined."
He added: "People have paid their taxes and they feel that they are entitled to high-quality, local and accessible services. I think that they deserve no less."
Responding to the debate, the newly appointed Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, acknowledged that the justification for reconfiguration was "not about finance or saving money." But she argued that "the overwhelming clinical case for change has been made" and that "the consultation and serious debate need to take place now."
The debate came on the same day that the new Health Secretary announced a review of the NHS, setting out "a vision for the next decade of the health service ... based less on central direction and more on patient control, choice and local accountability and which ensures that services are responsive to patients and local communities".
When pressed on what this meant for hospitals in Sussex, Alan Johnson said that the reconfiguration of services in the county was "a local, clinically-driven decision happening in that area. It is absolutely right that we should allow those proposals to go on."
The Health Secretary did, however, add that he would, "as a matter of course, ask the independent reconfiguration panel - our expert clinical group - for advice on any decisions made at local level that have been referred to me by overview and scrutiny committees." Previously the Health Secretary was not obliged to consult on any referral.
It is widely believed that, should the Primary Care Trust proceed with the downgrading of hospitals in West Sussex, the local overview and scrutiny committee will refer the decision to the Health Secretary.
Nick Herbert commented: "Ministers are trying to wash their hands of the hospital downgrading plans and hide behind the local Primary Care Trust, but ultimately they will have to take responsibility for any decisions made."
The MP added: "Clearly the NHS review isn't a reprieve for our hospitals. But it does show that the Government feels under pressure on the issue - so I would urge local people to fight on."
Notes for Editors
1. The full transcript of the Adjournment Debate on the Reconfiguration of Hospital Services in Sussex, which took place in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 4 July, can be found at: http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070704/halltext/70704h0006.htm#07070444000004
2. The West Sussex Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee includes representatives from the County Council and Borough and District Councils and provides independent monitoring of health service activities and plans.
3. In the case of the Fit for the Future consultation, which will have an impact on more than HOSC area, a Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee has been formed and invested with the powers of each local HOSC.
4. The JHOSC will review all the evidence provided by the PCTs in support of their proposals for the reconfiguration of acute health care provision and will consider expert clinical opinion.
5. Under Section 7 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 HOSCs have the power to make recommendations to the PCTs on their proposals and to make a formal referral to the Secretary of State.
6. West Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee will still have the power to refer the Fit for the Future proposals to the Secretary of State on the adequacy of the consultation and on the grounds that the proposal is not in the interests of the health service.