PCT told to "stop spinning and start listening"

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called on the West Sussex Primary Care Trust to “stop spinning and start listening” in its consultation on the future of local hospitals.


The MP took issue with a news release issued by the PCT last week in which it announced that it was "waging a war on unfounded ‘myths' surrounding the proposed changes outlined in the Fit for the Future consultation."

The PCT claimed that there were three such myths: that hospitals would be downgraded, choices would be reduced for pregnant women, and patients' lives will be at risk from longer ambulance journeys to A&E.

But speaking at a parish meeting in Hassocks on Friday, called to discuss the PCT's proposals, Nick Herbert rounded on the Trust, saying that, far from being myths, each of the statements was "self-evidently true."

The MP said: "If there are currently three acute hospitals in West Sussex and the PCT wants only one to be a major general hospital, and the others to be local or community hospitals without intensive care units, that will indisputably be a downgrading of two hospitals requiring many local people to travel further for emergency care.

"Similarly, fewer maternity units will manifestly reduce choices for pregnant women.  The PCT's own Clinical Reference Advisory Group on Maternity Services warned of the disadvantage of longer travel times for some pregnant women.

"And it's blindingly obvious to any rational person that longer ambulance journeys will mean more risk to patients.  The latest research from the University of Sheffield found that the risk of death rose by 1 per cent for every six miles."

"The PCT should stop spinning and start listening.  The Trust is entitled to set out the facts and the case for change.  But I strongly object to the use of taxpayers' money to issue this kind of ludicrous propaganda when the Trust is meant to be conducting a public consultation.

"The PCT claims that it ‘has been listening carefully to what people have been saying', but the clear impression I have formed over the past months and at the meetings attended by PCT officials is that they don't listen to a word.  The fact that they now have the effrontery to declare a ‘war' on the concerns of local people only underlines the fact that they are totally deaf to what is being said to them.

"The PCT must stop treating local people like idiots and ask itself why it is driving forward proposals in the teeth of public and clinical opposition, when neither of our neighbouring counties of East Sussex or Surrey are now doing so."

"I can tell the PCT that their ‘war' will more than be matched by one which I am now declaring on their spin."



Notes for Editors

1. The Primary Care Trust's news release can be found at http://www.westsussex.nhs.uk/news-and-events/press-releases-2007/pr-september-2007/west-sussex-pct-hits-out-against-myths-surrounding-fff-proposals/.

2. Maternity services:

The PCT's own Clinical Reference Advisory Group on Maternity Services said in its report that it " would like to draw the attention of the Clinical Advisory Reference Group to the following issues which need further discussion and exploration, or where members of the group do not reach consensus:

- The views of the users need further exploration - initially the Maternity Services Liaison Committees should be approached.

- Whether women will choose the type of service in the numbers that would support effective and efficient services.

- Whether non-West Sussex maternity units will have the capacity for more deliveries."

In its conclusions the Group stated that "the other major disadvantage of a large unit is that there will be longer travel times for some pregnant women within the catchment area", questioning "whether the anticipated higher quality service justifies the increased travel time for the population furthest from the single MGH."

3. Travel times

  • Researchers at the University of Sheffield have claimed that patients' lives could be put at risk by making them travel further for treatment.
  • Having studied over 10,000 cases of patients with a potentially life-threatening condition other than cardiac arrests, the academics concluded that "increased journey distance to hospital appears to be associated with increased risk of mortality."

  • The report found that the risk of death rose by 1 per cent for every six miles.  The distance between Haywards Heath and Brighton is 16 miles.

  • At a public meeting in Littlehampton on 7 August, Carol Gareze, Director for Community and Primary Care Services at West Sussex PCT, conceded that the worst case non-blue light travel time of 61 minutes could rise by 24 minutes to nearly one and a half hours.

Alexander Black