Health cuts are 'terrifying' - doctor

A SENIOR doctor has told the EADT that the community in Suffolk is "terrified" of the planned changes to the county's health system - on the eve of a multi-council meeting about the shake-up.

A SENIOR doctor has told the EADT that the community in Suffolk is “terrified” of the planned changes to the county's health system - on the eve of a multi-council meeting about the shake-up.

Dr Janet Massey, Felixstowe GP Principal and Honorary Secretary of the Suffolk Division of the British Medical Association, will address a meeting of the joint health scrutiny committee to be held at Suffolk County Council headquarters this morning.

The committee, made up of county councillors and borough and district councillors from across Suffolk, will also hear from Conservative MP Sir Michael Lord about controversial plans to close Hartismere Hospital in Eye.

It comes as the region's Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have put forward a list of controversial plans which could see community hospitals shut and sold off, wards closed and jobs lost in a bid to reduce an ever-growing mountain of debt.

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Dr Massey said: “We know that the local community is terrified about the proposed changes in health services.

“Those who are most afraid are those who live alone, those who are considered mentally ill, elderly carers with full responsibility for their loved one who may become demented, and working daughters trying to cope with aging sick parents as well as their own children.”

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She added: “That buildings that have been bequeathed to Ipswich and Felixstowe can be sold for a temporary financial expedient is a misuse of assets….

“There is now little if any trust among the patients in the intention and competence of the PCT to protect their interests.”

Dr Massey also said that, in her opinion and that of her colleagues, the new model of care is “only suitable for the young and fit, with a carer.”

She continued: “The stress on the staff will be immense working alone and having to walk away from those who are seriously ill…. A ward is a safer place for both patient, who is being observed, fed and nursed, and for the staff, particularly at night.”

Of the possible sale of closed facilities, Dr Massey added: “Our views on the consultation regarding the sale of bequeathed or donated property and the loss of equipment is that valuable assets are being diverted from the communities with proceeds for those sales giving short-term financial gain; these will have to be provided anyway and bought back in another form.”

Dr Massey also spoke of GPs “wrath for the PCT's incompetence in producing a deficit for us GPs as we approach practice-based commissioning (PBC) in April 2006.”

She added: “We will then hold a budget with which we can purchase services for our patients. To keep down costs we will be working in larger groups, and this is already gelling over Suffolk…

“The PCT is required to help and will be providing start up money. But in two years it appears we will be responsible for the debt.

“Why on earth then should we go into practice-based commissioning? This debt will sabotage the implementation of practice-based commissioning.”

Dr Massey continued: “Community-based nurses and community hospitals will have to find a new employer by 2008. GPs are the obvious professionals to run community hospitals and employ them.

“That is why sale of the Bartlet Convalescent Home and other community hospitals in Suffolk before PBC is so difficult to stomach because we may well decide that these, if managed properly, are not loss leaders but the wonderfully flexible facilities we need to organise the care our patients have said they would like/truly exercising their right to choose their care closer to home.”

Sir Michael Lord, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, will be giving a presentation to the meeting about Hartismere Hospital in Eye, which is earmarked for closure in the plans.

He said: “I shall be saying that this is quite the worst example of a consultation process I have ever seen. I have chaired public meetings and I've seen PCT officials trying to answer the questions put to them by my constituents.

“They have never had the answers. I think the consultation process has not just been flawed, it's been farcical.”

Sir Michael continued: “This is the most important constituency matter I have ever had to deal with - the effect of the closure of the hospital would be appalling.

“The alternative of caring for people in their own homes is simply not in place and is nowhere near being in place.

“It's something I feel very strongly about. I shall be asking the county council to refer this matter to the Secretary of State for her consideration because the consultation is flawed.

“If it was referred to her it would give us valuable time to reconsider the matter and come to a more sensible decision.

“We're a long way from the surrounding hospitals and it's absolutely vital at the end of the day that we have the right number of beds at Hartismere.”

Representatives from both the East Suffolk and West Suffolk PCTs will also attend the meeting to give presentations.

A spokeswoman for East Suffolk PCTs said: “There will be people there who are very closely involved in the new model of care trying to explain why we want to change the way we care and move to intermediate care teams.

“We will also be sharing with members an interim report about what the responses to our consultation have been - it'll be a progress report really on how many people have responded, what sort of responses we've got and what we will be suggesting to the trust board at the end of this month.”

A spokesman for West Suffolk PCT said: “We're sending a team of clinicians to the meeting with the idea to give the councillors a briefing on intermediate care and what it is so they have a better understanding of it when they're looking at making decisions.”

If it is not satisfied with the final outcome of the consultations the health scrutiny committee could refer the process to the Secretary of State for health, although no decision will be made today. The committee will meet next on February 28.

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