Secretary of State confirms hospitals are here to stay

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt.
Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt.

The Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Westmorland General Hospital or Furness General Hospital will not close as part of proposals to shakeup Morecambe Bay’s hospital trust.

But plans to consolidate services – including elective surgery – at one or more sites WILL form part of the Better Care Together strategy (BCT)- proposals for the future of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT)

Speaking exclusively to the Lancaster Guardian, Jeremy Hunt spoke out to refute claims by local Labour campaigners that the ‘very existence of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary is under threat.’

He said: “This is scaring people. People really do care about their local health services and to scare them like this is totally irresponsible.

“The Better Care Together strategy does not propose hospital closures. They will also keep consultant-led maternity services at Lancaster and Furness.

“Playing politics with the NHS is irresponsible - a lot of people are really worried.”

The BCT strategy document has been submitted to NHS England and Monitor for initial consideration. But the Guardian understands it:

* Does not propose the closure of any of the three main hospitals.

* Does confirm the intention to retain consultant-led maternity and accident and emergency services at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General Hospital.

* Midwifery-led maternity services would be retained at Westmorland General Hospital under the proposals.

* A number of services, including elective surgery, may be consolidated on to one or more sites.

* Proposes to move further services out of the traditional hospital setting and into local communities

* Plans to reduce the Trust’s operational costs through delivering services to patients closer to home.

The BCT strategy will echo the NHS Five Year Forward Vision which has proposed that hospital doctors, nurses, mental health, social care and GPs work together more collaboratively, including within the community.

Based on the fact some of the current estate is not fit for purpose, the BCT strategy will propose to invest around £150m into current hospitals.

The Trust currently has a £25m deficit and acknowledges that - regardless of efficiencies - it will always experience a structural deficit of around £20m, based on unique geographical challenges, population and essential requirements to meet safe and appropriate staffing levels.

To address these challenges, the Trust has made a submission to Monitor for a ‘local price modification’ to the money it receives.

Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Hunt acknowledged the financial challenges of the Trust, but said cost efficiencies could include “reducing locom staff and replacing them with permanent full time staff, reducing paperwork to invest in IT.”

He said: “We need an intelligent, sensible, health debate - some of these assertions are outrageous. The big plan to improve local health services is here to stay. There are no closure plans, this isn’t going to happen.”

After speaking to the Lancaster Guardian, and in response to a question by Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw on Tuesday, Mr Hunt also stated on the record in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the Royal Lancaster Infirmary will not close.

He earlier told the Guardian: “I particularly want to put on the record that the scare stories put out by Labour in Lancaster about the potential closure of Royal Lancaster Infirmary are false. And it is totally irresponsible to scare people in Lancaster in that way.”

Mr Hunt denied that the proposal to see the outpatient dispensary at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary operated by another private or public organisation amounts to privatisation.

The Lancaster Guardian put to him the assertions of the No Health Selloff campaigners, who have been campaigning locally against thepharmacy proposals.

He said: “Use of the private sector has grown by half as much than under the previous government.

“We have put many of these decisions into the hands of our local GPs. To suggest this is privatisation is simply scaremongering.”

Morecambe and Lunesdale Labour parliamentary candidate Amina Lone, said: “I am pleased to hear the government acknowledge the case myself and others have been making that extra funding is desperately needed for the Morecambe Bay Trust.

“However what people keep telling me is that we need a guarantee that the RLI is not under threat of closure or vital services will be lost.

“The Trust still has a gaping £25 million black hole that needs to be filled and without significant extra funding the risks to the quality of patient care and local services are very real.”

Lancaster MP Eric Ollernshaw said:“I am pleased that the Secretary of State has placed on the record something that I already know that the hospital will not close.”