Suffolk: Former hospital boss warns of “under-threat” hospital

A FORMER senior health chief has warned the future of Suffolk’s hospitals is under threat from the “privatisation and fragmentation” of the NHS.

Bob Jones, who served as the chief executive officer for West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, has issued one of the starkest warnings yet ahead of a massive reorganisation of the health service.

Mr Jones, whose fears have been echoed by union bosses, said he was concerned the replacement of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in April next year could lead to vital health services being chipped away.

The GP-led CCGs will be responsible for about 60% of the NHS budget, with a relatively small number of doctors taking responsibility for deciding what local services to fund.

The former NHS boss is now calling for everyone in the county to sign an online petition calling on doctors in charge of Suffolk healthcare to prevent local services being “broken up or taken over by irresponsible private companies”.

“Local doctors and other healthcare professionals are getting together to form Clinical Commissioning Groups or CCGs,” he said.

“These groups will have to make big decisions about how NHS money is spent locally and what health services will be available to us.

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“CCGs will be under pressure from the Government to cut services and hand out contracts to private companies. But they also have a legal obligation to pay attention to local patients, and many doctors on the CCGs were against the plans from the start.

“Having worked in, or alongside the NHS for most of my working life, I am very concerned. We want to make sure that new clinical groups take notice of what people think. We don’t want the service to become fragmented to the detriment of patients.”

Mr Jones, who worked at West Suffolk Hospital for 20 years before moving on to become chief executive of St Nicholas Hospice Care in Bury St Edmunds for 12 years, said it was vital that CCGS operate with a “long term view”.

“If you cherry-pick what is profitable, things like surgery, non-urgent operations, pathology, X-Ray, the rest can start to suffer. You could get a situation where West Suffolk Hospital could become non viable.

“The same is true of any Suffolk hospital. The view needs to be taken that the NHS is more than just the sum of its parts.”

Tim Roberts, regional officer for Unison in the East, said that the trend towards awarding services to private firms had already begun with Serco taking over the Suffolk Community Healthcare from the NHS.

He added that there would be “major consequences” when the CCGs were put into place: “I think that the public will be concerned that a number of the services which they cherish will be given to private companies.”

He added that he was also worried that hospitals, including Ipswich Hospital, could be left in a “very serious situation” as services are awarded away from the NHS.

Dr Christopher Browning, Chairman of the NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group has already established a good working relationship with West Suffolk Hospital and looks forward to continued partnership working for the benefit of local people.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said: “Our clinicians are already working very closely with the GPs on the West Suffolk CCG so that we can continue to provide the best care for our patients. We have a very good relationship with the CCG and the group is very supportive of their local hospital.”