We should not be deciding between hospitals

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has repeated his view that none of the three acute hospitals in West Sussex should be downgraded – and he has warned the Primary Care Trust and the clinicians who supported them that they “will not be forgiven” if they allow St Richard’s to die.


The MP, whose constituents use all three hospitals in the county (St Richard's, Worthing & Southlands and the Princess Royal), was commenting on the decision of the West Sussex Primary Care Trust to locate centralised hospital services at Worthing.

Mr Herbert also blasted West Sussex Primary Care Trust for announcing a major change without providing information about the numbers of patients affected.

The decision, which is expected to be confirmed by the PCT's Board next week, was revealed this morning (28 May).  It means that Worthing will provide a consultant-led maternity unit, inpatient paediatrics and emergency surgery for the whole of West Sussex.

St Richard's will be downgraded and will lose some services, including its specialist maternity unit.  The hospital will retain its A&E department, though not in its current form.

It was already known, before today's announcement, that the Princess Royal Hospital at Haywards Heath will retain its A&E department but will lose its consultant-led maternity unit.  There is no guarantee that the PRH will be chosen as the location of a midwife-led unit for the north of the county.

Some patients of St Richard's will now have to be taken to Worthing or Portsmouth for treatment.  These will include expectant mothers who require specialist intervention, children who need to be admitted to hospital and patients who require emergency surgery.

The PCT claims that most patients will not be affected by the changes.  Mr Herbert has repeatedly asked for clarification of the numbers involved, but the PCT once again failed to provide them.

Nick Herbert commented: "We should not be forced to decide between hospitals in this way, and the PCT should not make a major announcement without being able to tell us how many A&E patients and mothers who currently use St Richard's will be affected.

"It is horribly divisive to set one hospital and one community against another.  Of course I am pleased that Worthing Hospital will be able to provide an extensive range of services, but staff, patients and campaigners at St Richard's will be bitterly disappointed by the PCT's decision to downgrade one of the best hospitals in the country.

"The consolation is that A&E services are being retained in some form at all three hospitals in the county - St Richard's, Worthing and the Princess Royal.  Clearly not all A&E cases will be treated at St Richard's in future, which is currently the case at the PRH, where some patients are transferred or taken directly to Brighton.  We need to know exactly what proportion of patients will continue to be treated at St Richard's.  But retaining A&E services in some form is a whole lot better than the original proposal, which could have seen the PRH downgraded to a community hospital and St Richard's lose its A&E department altogether.

"I remain deeply sceptical about the logic of centralising maternity services.  I believe that all three hospitals should retain their consultant-led maternity units, but now there will be only one for the whole county.  St Richard's will have a midwife-led unit, but we won't know for some time if the PRH will have one as well.  A lot of mothers are going to have to travel much further to have their babies.

"I believe that my constituents have paid their taxes and are entitled to high quality local services, which means keeping and developing services at all three of our hospitals in the county.

"The Primary Care Trust assures us that their new arrangements will be sustainable and that further cuts are not planned.  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 St Richard's to die.

"I hope that the managers and clinicians at Worthing and St Richard's will now work closely together to ensure that both hospitals continue to operate for the good of the community."



Notes for Editors

1. The news release from the West Sussex Primary Care Trust can be viewed at http://www.westsussex.nhs.uk/news-and-events/press-releases-2008/pr-may-2008/worthing-chosen-as-the-location-for-centralised-services/.

2. The next Board meeting of the West Sussex Primary Care Trust, to confirm the location of the Major General Hospital, will be held on Wednesday 4 June at 2pm. It will be held in public at the Copthorne Hotel, Effingham, Gatwick.

3. The decisions of the PCT will be considered by the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC) on 25 June.

4. The PCT Board will meet again on 10 July to confirm or amend major decisions in response to the recommendations of the JHOSC.

Alexander Black