MP attacks health consultation
A HEALTH trust has rejected an MP's claim that a public consultation exercise over the future of a rural hospital has been a “farce”.The claim has come from Sir Michael Lord, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who also alleged that public presentations by the local Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) about plans to close Hartismere Hospital at Eye have been “incompetent” and that public confidence in the process has been “shattered”.
By David Green
A HEALTH trust has rejected an MP's claim that a public consultation exercise over the future of a rural hospital has been a “farce”.
The claim has come from Sir Michael Lord, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who also alleged that public presentations by the local Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) about plans to close Hartismere Hospital at Eye have been “incompetent” and that public confidence in the process has been “shattered”.
Sir Michael was commenting after a second meeting with Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to re-emphasise his concern and that of his constituents about proposals for the hospital.
Suffolk East PCTs are planning to close the wards and transfer and develop clinics at the adjacent Gilchrist Centre to support a “care in the community” system aimed at keeping patients in their own homes.
The proposal has caused an outcry throughout the rural area among parish councils, GP practices and members of the public.
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Sir Michael said he had pointed out to Mrs Hewitt that the closure of Hartismere Hospital was not supported by a single doctors' surgery in north Suffolk.
However, the minister had indicated that the PCTs must find a way of remedying their present financial situation and she would not intervene.
“However, she made clear that closing the hospital is not something she is proposing but something that must be decided locally by the PCTs and the Strategic Health Authority,” Sir Michael said.
“She said that although she expected the financial situation to be resolved she would not expect this to be done in a way that was obviously wrong.”
He added: “The consultation to date has been a farce with incompetent presentations by the PCTs and public confidence in the process has been shattered.”
Sir Michael said the process had been a farce because from a shortlist of six options only a few months ago, people were now being consulted on only one - the hospital's closure.
PCT officials presiding at public meetings had not understood the questions being asked and their answers had provided no reassurance, the MP claimed.
“I am convinced that the PCTs do not know how the new system is going to work and that they are contradicting what local people know to be the truth,” he said.
Among the fallacies was that sufficient carers would be found to look after people in their own homes, Sir Michael said, adding there was an existing shortage of carers and authorities had tried without success to recruit new ones.
Sir Michael added he remained hopeful that a way could be found to resolve the PCTs' financial difficulties while preserving beds at Hartismere Hospital which were “absolutely essential” for people in the area.
A Suffolk East PCTs spokesman said the consultation was “genuine and ongoing”.
“The viewpoint expressed by Sir Michael Lord about the process is not shared by the PCT,” he said.
“We have held or attended more than 40 consultative meetings to date and have changed the presentation following feedback or to meet specific needs of different audiences.”