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‘Draconian’ plans to close Bolton hospital A&E unit will put lives at risk, claims health chief

By Dominic Claeys-Jackson

Radical proposals to scrap a Bolton hospital’s A&E unit are being slammed by health bosses.

Bolton health chief, Councillor Joyce Kellett, is angrily opposing plans to scrap Royal Bolton Hospital’s Accident & Emergency unit.

The proposals, outlined in NHS Greater Manchester’s Healthier Together paper last month, hinted at the closure of six of the county’s eleven A&E departments.

And Labour’s Cllr Kellett, Chair of Bolton Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, told MM of her disgust at the Tory-led proposals.

“The cuts will be devastating to everyone in need in all areas, and I will not support any cuts to our NHS whatsoever,” she said.

“I would not wish anyone to lose their job, and there should be a full independent consultation with the public before any decision is made.

“Any changes should be driven by genuine improvements in clinical care and service efficiency, and not an indiscriminate cuts policy.”

Under the proposals, five A&E ‘super-centres’ could be created, located at Central Manchester, Oldham, Salford, South Manchester and Stockport.

Such changes would result in the loss of A&E departments at Bury, North Manchester, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, as well as Bolton.

This could mean that patients who suffer critical injuries or health issues would face a much-increased journey to their nearest hospital.

Those who live in Wigan, for example, could be forced to travel to Salford – the nearest Greater Manchester A&E – to receive treatment.

Cllr Kellett said that there was a strong professional and patient concern over the reforms seriously risking people’s health.

“People in the most deprived areas face longer journeys to hospital and crowded A&E departments when they arrive,” she said.

“Slashing A&E departments without increasing resources for ambulance services and hospitals will put the lives of some of our most vulnerable members of our society at risk.

“Not only will A&E suffer if services are centralized but it would be devastating.”

Over 150 doctors have written to David Cameron expressing concern at the government-proposed A&E streamlining, and Cllr Kellett urged public interaction to be thorough.

She said: “There has not been a great deal of consultation on these changes and many people believe they have not been adequately consulted or informed in relation to the extent of these cuts.

“There should be no further changes without a fully independent consultation with the public, stating the full implications to every man, woman and child who will at some point in their lives be affected by the draconian changes.”

Plans are currently in a pre-consultation stage, with public interaction set to fully begin in spring next year, before a decision is made.

Conservative Leader of Bolton Council, David Greenhalgh, defended the findings of the paper.

And he dismissed the popular claims that a decision had already been made to scrap Royal Bolton’s A&E as “scaremongering”.

He said: “Obviously there is a consultation going on regarding A&E provision – and Bolton is included in that.

“However, it is virtually 100% assured that Bolton A&E will not close.

“People immediately think, ‘Oh my God, our hospital is going to close’; but that is not the case.”

Earlier this week, the first opposition campaign was attended by over 100 people at Bolton Town Hall, including Bolton MPs and members of Royal Bolton Hospital’s Unison branch.

One key campaigner – John Murphy, Chairman of Staff Side at Bolton Royal Hospital – dismissed the paper’s claims that proposals would improve healthcare provision.

“The primary reason for the changes is to achieve a cost reduction in the delivery of healthcare and I believe that will be to the detriment of patients,” he said.

“We will continue to inform the public of the true nature of these proposals, so that people can decide for themselves come the consultation stage.”

John Murphy, Chairman of Staff Side, hit out at the plans to concentrate services into five ‘super-centres’.

“The primary reason for the changes is to achieve a cost reduction in the delivery of healthcare and I believe that will be to the detriment of patients,” said Mr Murphy.

“The government has recently reduced the tax rate from 50p to 45p, which has cost the treasury £28billion.

“Now the NHS has got to save £20billion. So you can see quite clearly that the money is there, it’s just the desire and the ideology of the government that are driving these changes.”

Councillor Andrew Morgan, Bolton’s Conservative Health Spokesman, refuted suggestions that government cuts were responsible for potential changes.

However, he called the proposals ‘bloody madness’, claiming that he would stand side-by-side with anybody defending the Bolton’s A&E unit.

“People are mixing up two very separate things here. It is a clinician-driven review of services; it’s nothing to do with the cuts,” he said.

“Bolton is the biggest A&E department outside Central Manchester, and given where it is geographically it would be absolute bloody madness to close the thing.

“We are all singing from the same song sheet, but people need to make sure that they are not confusing two very separate issues.”

Under proposals, patients suffering critical health issues could face a much-increased journey to their nearest hospital.

The ‘golden hour’ – the optimum treatment time period for those who suffer a severe health issue such as a heart attack – would likely be critically compromised.

And Mr Murphy claimed that such changes in the NHS would seriously endanger lives.

“The paper itself recognises that the infrastructure in terms of road and transportation is not fit for purpose,” he said.

“If you’re spending 40 minutes of the ‘golden hour’ in an ambulance, you can see how much your chances of surviving are reduced.”

Mr Murphy also indicated that the impact of A&E losses would extend to other hospital services, threatening further jobs.

Hospitals would lose its intensive care and coronary care units quickly, he claimed, with a significant proportion of theatre work also centralised at ‘super-centres’.

Greater Manchester Ambulance Service would also be affected, following the privatisation of non-emergency ambulances to bus company Arriva.

Rationalisation could take place, Mr Murphy claimed, with ambulance substations – which house a couple of emergency ambulances – closed due to the privatisation.

He said: “If you were unfortunate enough to live in Blackrod – or some other area serviced by a sub-station – you could have to wait for an ambulance to come from Westhoughton or Bolton.

“So not only have you potentially got a 30 minute journey from Blackrod, but you’ve also got to wait 10-15 minutes for the ambulance to get to you in the first place.

“It is our firm belief that if these changes go ahead then they will be to the detriment of patients and they are driven purely by finance.”

Cllr Morgan said that plans were a product of an initiative set up by the previous Labour government, and that criticism of the coalition for the plans was therefore unjust.

He also slammed the way Greater Manchester NHS had handled the release of information, claiming such mismanagement has led to premature union judgement.

“The way the cluster are managing Healthier Together is absolutely shocking, from both a PR perspective and a consultancy perspective.

“The unions are only doing the job that they are there to do, in trying to protect services and their members, but they are filling the gaps at the minute because so little information is coming out.

“Our local CCG have said there are no decisions to be made going forward until the beginning of next year.”

The suggestion that changes were not cut-related was something Cllr Morgan refused to rule out, though he emphasised the need for detractors to not jump to conclusions.

“The way that it’s been brought forward so quickly would make it naive for me to say that it’s nothing to do with the cuts.

“But the primary thing it is being driven by is the clinicians with regards to safe practice, and the speed of implementation is being affected by the fact that the health services across Greater Manchester jointly have got to make some savings.”

Earlier this week, the first opposition campaign was attended by over 100 people at Bolton Town Hall, including Bolton MPs and members of Royal Bolton Hospital’s Unison branch.

Plans are currently in a pre-consultation stage, with public interaction set to fully begin in spring next year, before a decision is made on the A&E future.

Photo courtesy of 28704869, with thanks.

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