MP speaks of despair at hospital axe

A SENIOR MP has branded proposals to close a community hospital in his constituency as the worst he has ever experienced in his career. Sir Michael Lord, MP for central Suffolk and north Ipswich, described the public consultation exercise over controversial plans to close Hartismere Hospital in Eye as “dictation” and “farcical”.

A SENIOR MP has branded proposals to close a community hospital in his constituency as the worst he has ever experienced in his career.

Sir Michael Lord, MP for central Suffolk and north Ipswich, described the public consultation exercise over controversial plans to close Hartismere Hospital in Eye as “dictation” and “farcical”.

He was speaking at a meeting of Suffolk County Council's health scrutiny committee yesterday, which was set up to discuss the proposed major shake-up of the county's health system.

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 tackle an ever growing mountain of debt.


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Speaking at the meeting, Sir Michael said: “I've been a member of parliament for 22 years for my part of Suffolk. This is the worst case by far I have ever seen in my experience as an MP.

“Before the General Election we had five options. Immediately after the General Election those were reduced to two. In a matter of days, I had communication there is only one option now and that's the closure of Hartismere Hospital.

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“One option is not consultation it's dictation. This is all about justifying that one option. There are no answers to any of the questions coming from experienced people.

“Balance the books, balance the books, balance the books - it's all about balancing the books.

“Closing the hospital might save £1m, £2m, or £3m. In reality, they're talking about refurbishing West Suffolk College at £42m. Doesn't that put into perspective about closing one hospital like this?

“It's ridiculous for us to be thinking about closing a hospital for that amount of money.”

The Tory MP said there had been total opposition to the plans and to the way the consultation process was handled.

He continued: “The PCT is pushing on regardless. They're pretending a framework will be there within the time schedule.

“I urge the committee, I beg of you, make sure this is referred back to Patricia Hewitt so she has to think again.”

If the council is not satisfied with the final outcome of the consultations, it could refer the process to the Secretary of State for Health.

Sir Michael believes this would provide more time to reconsider the proposals.

But John Underwood, director of independent consultancy company CLEAR, which advises NHS organisations about public consultation exercises, said the consultation process in Suffolk had been “transparent to a fault”.

“The impression I get is there was a very wide consultation. It got a good deal of media coverage. People have both a written and a verbal opportunity to respond,” he said.

“Given in many consultations criticism is made of PCTs somehow hiding its intentions or using weasel words, it was transparent to a fault.

“It makes absolute crystal clear a number of different facilities could close. I think the language was relatively easy to understand and not too much jargon.”

Dr Janet Massey, Felixstowe GP Principal and honorary secretary of the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association, told the meeting the local community was terrified at the proposed changes.

“There is now no trust among the patients in the intention and competence of the PCT to protect their interests.”

Martin Royal, project director of the Suffolk East PCTs, said the new model of care enabled people to remain at home or as close as possible while receiving treatment.

This would result in savings by the reduced number of acute hospital admissions, he said.

“This is about us working in a more efficient way,” he added.

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