Closure of Frenchay Hospital sparks political war of words

The rally outside Frenchay today

The rally outside Frenchay today

In the week that Frenchay Hospital closed as the new super-hospital at Southmead opened, a rally was held to highlight what Labour campaigners called “broken promises under the Tory-led Government”.

Jo McCarron, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Kingswood, addressed Labour councillors, members and NHS campaigners outside Frenchay this morning, slating the Conservatives for undermining a deal to protect it as a community hospital.

But local Conservative MPs were swift to hit back, saying it had been Labour’s decision to close Frenchay and branding it their “worst legacy in our area”.

Mrs McCarron said: “Many local people will be very disappointed and anxious that Frenchay Hospital is closing its doors and is moving many of its services to Southmead Hospital. The new facilities at Southmead are very welcome, but still residents are not getting what they were promised.

“After a lengthy consultation years ago, residents accepted the Bristol Health Services Plan to move acute services from Frenchay to the new Southmead site, on the basis that Frenchay would be protected as a community hospital. But under this Government that end of the deal has been completely undermined.

“Residents were promised that following the closure of the A&E there would still be 68 inpatient beds at Frenchay for people needing rehabilitation, as well as hospital outpatient clinics, therapy services and access to diagnostic tests such as X-rays.

“But since then, under this Government, the decision has been made to scrap provision of ‘a fixed number of beds’, to ditch the provision of outpatient clinics, therapy services and diagnostic tests, and to provide no inpatient beds at all at Frenchay until 2016.

“All this despite Kingswood’s Conservative MP Chris Skidmore claiming last summer that he had already “ensured that Frenchay will continue as a community hospital”.

“That clearly was not the case, and local people have been left angry and distrusting at this backtracking. Residents want and deserve decent, easy-to-access NHS facilities, but this is yet another example that the Tories cannot be trusted with the NHS.”

But in a joint statement, Mr Skidmore and the Conservative MP for Filton & Bradley Stoke, Jack Lopresti, said: “It is astonishing that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party are now turning up at Frenchay – a hospital that was downgraded under the last Labour Government and which they did very little to save.

“It just goes to show how out of touch they have become and what little regard they hold local people and our community.

“It was the Labour Party’s decision to close Frenchay in 2005 in favour of Southmead Hospital, despite ardent local opposition. Indeed, the Labour Health Secretary at the time, Patricia Hewitt MP, refused to listen to local residents. She chose to ignore a 50,000 signature petition by local people calling for an investigation into the decision to close Frenchay A&E and downgrade the hospital.

“Moreover, only a few months ago local Labour councillors voted against a Conservative motion to save beds at Frenchay Hospital – condemning it to closure. Frenchay’s closure is Labour’s worst legacy in our area.

“Conservatives have always fought hard for Frenchay. As local MPs we have called two debates on Frenchay in Parliament – not one Labour MP attended. When the decision over beds at Frenchay was referred to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel last year, something the previous Labour Government refused to do, we wrote jointly in support of the hospital.

“Ed Miliband’s Labour candidate had the chance to back Frenchay, but it is telling that she did nothing and made no submission. For Labour to turn up now outside the hospital – which they did absolutely nothing to save and allowed to close under their watch – is insulting to local people. Where was Labour when local residents needed their support?”