Fears over NHS taken to church leaders

A LAST-ditch rally cry has been issued to a community facing swingeing cuts to its health service by MPs who say there remains a “chink of hope” that the fall of the axe may be delayed.

A LAST-ditch rally cry has been issued to a community facing swingeing cuts to its health service by MPs who say there remains a “chink of hope” that the fall of the axe may be delayed.

Conservatives Richard Spring and David Ruffley urged their constituents to write to health chiefs, collect petitions and make their voices heard in the fight to save threatened services and hospital beds.

And the two MPs also said Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt should allow the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) to repay millions of pounds worth of debt over a period of years rather than months - a move they say could stave off the cuts.

At a meeting with church leaders in Bury St Edmunds yesterday, the two MPs listened to the community's concerns and urged the public to keep up the pressure.

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“There is a chink of hope here,” said Mr Spring, MP for West Suffolk. “Everybody now should get a petition together and write letters to the PCT saying this is absolutely unacceptable, that these community-based beds are not to be removed, that these cuts are not to go ahead.

“We are fighting for the interests of our communities. If we do that together, we may stop some of these ridiculous proposals.”

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And David Ruffley, MP for Bury, urged the Government to give the PCT more time to repay the debts, saying: “We need to be cut a bit of slack by Patricia Hewitt and be given two or three years for the managers to balance the books. That would mean the cuts would be reduced.

“If the Secretary of State only gives us six to 12 months, then the cuts are going to be savage.

“I think a corner can be turned, providing we keep on making the case rationally, sensibly and courteously.”

Rev Jonathan Ford, of Moreton Hall's Christ Church, called the meeting after listening to concerns from both parishioners and those working in the health service.

“We must not go to sleep about this issue,” he said. “My personal feeling is we will be unlikely to change existing cuts, but we must be active to make sure there are no more cuts.”

A spokesman for the PCT said all views would be taken into account before a final decision is made on threatened services next month.

“There has been a consultation which provoked a massive response, which is the reason we have put the final decision back so everything can be considered properly,” he said.

“We are listening carefully to everything everyone has got to say. The decision will be made in February after we have considered all these views.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Strategic health authorities have a responsibility to manage the performance of the PCTs in their area.

“Therefore, in order to relieve financial pressure on local NHS organisations, the SHA met with PCTs early in the financial year and agreed that they would not have to repay previously accumulated overspendings by the end of March 2006.

“This meant that PCTs simply had to live within this year's allocation, without the additional pressure of repayment. However, the money that has been used to allow them to carry over previously borrowed funds will need to be returned the following year as other NHS bodies would end up covering the cost of extending the timetable for changes and repayment in Suffolk.”


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