In January, health watchdogs in South Gloucestershire contacted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to say that the promised minor injuries unit was still not up and running at the refurbished Cossham Hospital, which had been open for two years, and they were concerned that an alternative proposal being put forward to trial a minor injuries service in GP practices would result in “inadequate provision”.
The GP-led South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group halted its trial plans to await the ministerial decision. Mr Hunt asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to advise him by 7th April and they reported back to him by that deadline.
However, Chris Skidmore, who is standing to be re-elected as a Conservative MP for Kingswood, was told yesterday by the Department for Health: “In line with the Cabinet Office General Election Guidance 2015, which states that ‘the main consideration must be to ensure that the citizen’s interests are not prejudiced’, it would be inappropriate for ministers to take this decision during the pre-election period. Incoming ministers will receive the IRP advice in due course.”
The GP-led South Glos Clinical Commissioning Group has halted its plans for the trial service, of which details have yet to be revealed. Since Frenchay Hospital closed almost a year ago, people in the Kingswood area who need minor injuries care have to travel to the new Southmead Hospital, the Bristol Royal Infirmary or the minor injuries unit (MIU) at Yate.
Mr Skidmore said: “Having been chasing for the publication of the IRP report, it seems the independent civil service rules that govern the pre-election period that also affect other organisations, such as the council, have to be followed by the department officials also. The report needs to be published as soon as is legally possible.”
As MP he had called a debate on Cossham MIU in the Commons, handed in a 2,000-signature petition to Parliament and raised the issue with the Health Secretary.
The issue of the MIU has cross-party support, with Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Kingswood Jo McCarron also working closely with the Save Cossham Group to press for the MIU.
Reg Bennett, who has led the fight to get the MIU installed at Cossham, said today: “In January 2015, after two years of time wasted, Cossham MIU was referred to the Health Minister who passed it on to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for a decision by 7th April. To date we have not had a reply – why? We have had 28 months of de-commissioning of our promised community services in Kingswood and district.”
Tonight Jo McCarron said it was another blow to the thousands of residents who have been calling for the MIU. She said: “We hoped when we got the issue referred to the Secretary of State that he would use his powers to deliver what local people have been waiting for and demanding for over two years. He hasn’t.
“To be clear, Jeremy Hunt absolutely could have decided to deliver the MIU even though we are currently in the election period. He would only have to postpone that decision if there was disagreement with the Opposition, but Labour is absolutely clear that we support the MIU.”