David Cameron promises "bare knuckle fight" over West Sussex hospitals
Local hospital campaigners received high profile support this week when David Cameron promised the Government a “bare knuckle fight” over the future of West Sussex’s hospitals.
The Conservative Party Leader made the pledge when he visited Worthing Hospital on Monday (20 August).
In a further boost to the hospital campaigns, a new academic study has warned that increasing travel distances to A&E departments will put lives at risk.
Mr Cameron visited Worthing to speak out against plans to downgrade Accident and Emergency departments and maternity units. He emphasised that he was supporting all three hospitals under threat in the county and that they should not be pitched against each other.
The Conservative Leader was welcomed to the hospital by MPs Nick Herbert, Peter Bottomley and Tim Loughton, and met with hospital managers, doctors, nurses and paramedics as well as patients.
Mr Cameron said: "We believe that the district general hospital is an absolutely key part of the NHS. People have put money into the NHS, they've paid increased taxes and they want to see their district general hospital improve.
"They simply do not understand why maternity units and accident and emergency units are being shut down when accident and emergency admissions are up and births are up too.
"The Government's new health minister, Sir Ara Darzai, has said ‘the days of the district general hospital are over'. That's why I say the Government can expect a bare knuckle fight with us over the next few weeks and months about saving district general hospitals as a key part of the local NHS."
Nick Herbert commented: "It was tremendous that David Cameron came down to show his support for our hospitals in West Sussex. Although it happened to be Worthing hospital that he visited, he made it absolutely clear that he supports all three hospitals under threat in the county.
"It's absolutely right that the hospital campaigns will continue to be non-party, because they are supported by people across the political spectrum, but I think to have the Leader of the Opposition throwing his weight behind our cause and taking such a high-profile stance was a huge boost to local people."
The MP also welcomed a new study showing that patients could be put at risk by making them travel further for treatment.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield studied over 10,000 cases of patients with a potentially life-threatening condition other than cardiac arrests, and 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.
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.
Commenting, Nick Herbert said: "This latest report provides the academic evidence for what local people have been saying all along - that closing A&E departments and forcing people to travel further in emergencies will put lives at risk.
"With roads like the A27 becoming ever more congested, it is madness to increase the distance that patients will have to cover.
"The Primary Care Trust should urgently reconsider its proposals which are unravelling by the day."
Notes for Editors
1. The University of Sheffield report on ambulance travel times can be found at http://www.shef.ac.uk/mediacentre/2007/867.html
2. The minutes of the public meeting at Littlehampton on Tuesday 7 August can be seen at http://www2.westsussex.gov.uk/clc_subsite/pdfs/jeaac070807notes.pdf