Cossham campaigners have been dealt a heavy blow today with the Secretary of State saying that South Gloucestershire health chiefs are right to consider an alternative to the promised minor injuries unit at the Kingswood hospital.
Jeremy Hunt has accepted the recommendation of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel which backs South Glos Clinical Commissioning Group’s decision to trial a minor injuries service in selected GP surgeries.
Over 18,000 people signed petitions calling for the CCG to honour the opening of the MIU but local health chiefs have said that it would cost approaching £1m a year to fund and that if they did that, there would need to be cutbacks in other areas.
Cossham reopened in January 2013 after a major refurbishment but without its planned minor injuries unit. Since Frenchay Hospital closed over a year ago, people in the Kingswood area who need minor injuries care are having to travel to the new Southmead Hospital, the Bristol Royal Infirmary or the minor injuries unit (MIU) at Yate.
In January of this year, health watchdogs in South Gloucestershire contacted the Health Secretary to say that the promised minor injuries unit was still not up and running and they were concerned that the 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 (IRP) to advise him by 7th April and they reported back to him by that deadline.
But it was considered inappropriate for ministers to take decisions during the pre-election period and it was only today that Mr Hunt announced that he has accepted the IRP recommendation that there will not be a full review.
Mr Hunt says in his letter to Cllr Ian Scott, chair of South Gloucestershire’s Public Health & Health Scrutiny Committee: “The Panel notes that this is the third referral from the South Gloucestershire Council in less than 18 months following referrals about rehabilitation beds at Southmead Hospital and proposals for a community hospital at Frenchay Hospital.
“The Panel acknowledges the sense of exasperation felt by local patients and residents as their NHS services have undergone considerable organisational change since 2005, with pauses in developments and amendments to plans since then.
“However, I completely agree with the Panel that as new evidence emerges, thinking moves on, and what might have been considered the right course of action in 2009 is not necessarily right for 2015. Both the National Review of Urgent and Emergency Care Services and the local experience of Yate MIU have identified that earlier initiatives to alleviate the pressure on A&E services have not succeeded in reducing demand as hoped.
“I share the Panel’s view that a new approach is therefore needed and that the South Gloucestershire CCG is right to consider alternatives.”
He agreed with the Panel that the “apprehension” at the lack of information coming from the CCG about its proposal for minor injuries services in a number of local GP surgeries was understandable. And he said that NHS England should now secure “the independent external support necessary to rebuild relationships and ensure that existing proposals are completed within an acceptable timescale”.
The Panel also said “support should help to focus minds on the future – by facilitating meaningful engagement with the local population to understand better their needs and then agreeing plans to provide better quality, locally available services”.
Speaking after receiving the letter, Cllr Scott said the decision not to support the minor injuries unit would outrage residents and campaigners as they would consider it had been” cynically and politically delayed until after the General Election and South Gloucestershire Council’s local elections”.
“In his letter to me confirming the decision Mr Hunt sounded irritated that he has had to bother with the number of referrals that councillors have made as a result of the unravelling of local NHS services. I continue to believe it is right for councillors to speak up for local people.”
He said the MIU was previously promised on the basis of need and that need was greater than ever as a result of a growing population.
Reg Bennett, who has been at the forefront of the fight for the MIU, today said the Panel did not consider that a full review would add any value as further local action by the NHS with the council could address the issues raised – but in his opinion the CCG could not address those issues, which was why the matter had been referred.
He said the CCG had overturned a democratic decision made in 2009, ignored a petition signed by 18,500 residents and last November said it was planning to pass on the minor injuries service to GPs already struggling to cope with their workload.
He said many questions remained over how the minor injuries service would be delivered that the public would still end up going to A&E.
He will be calling a meeting of the campaigners to discuss what to do next.
Jo McCarron, who was Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Kingswood at the General Election, said: “The Labour team and I consistently supported residents calling for the minor injuries unit and just prior to the General Election, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham pledged that if I was elected and he was Health Secretary, he would return to Kingswood before the summer recess to thrash out a plan for the promised minor injuries unit. That makes the Conservative Government’s decision even more hard to swallow, knowing that if we had a Labour Government right now we’d be sat around the table with residents formulating a plan.
“What is worse, Labour councillors have had to chase the Health Secretary’s decision up. This is frustrating as we know that Jeremy Hunt had the report before the election, but he chose not to announce this bad news until after they had secured people’s votes.
“It is extremely disappointing that despite the local MP Chris Skidmore saying he and the Conservatives supported the campaign for the MIU, it is his own Conservative Government colleague who has now made this decision.”
Mr Skidmore said today that he was “desperately disappointed” by the IRP decision. He said that to date the Secretary of State has always accepted the Panel’s advice.
He said he would be working with the scrutiny committee and the local NHS “to ensure that we get our urgent care facilities and minor injury service capability that we desperately need in Kingswood”. He said he would also write to health ministers to call for a meeting to move things forward.
And he said he was amazed that after everything Labour had tried to do locally to politicise Cossham that the appendix to the report showed that they had made no submission to the IRP.
Today the CCG told us: “We welcome the news that the Secretary of State has today responded to the referral from the scrutiny committee and look forward to discussing this with the committee in due course.”