Thursday, October 05, 2006

West Cumberland Hospital's future is not safe

The following letter from a senior health professional was published in the Whitehaven News today. This is so important to the Copeland area that I have printed the letter in its entirety below.

SIR — The inhabitants of West Cumbria need to be aware that the threat to hospital services, as described in the press, is almost certainly underestimated.

Within the North Cumbria acute trust, WCH plays second fiddle to Carlisle by quite a margin. Given the tight finances that in itself constitutes a threat to our survival. Add to this the politically-motivated “reforms” which tumble out of Whitehall and one has to wonder, not what will we have in a “West” hospital, old or new, but will we have a hospital at all?

As just one example, take the latest Labour gimmick, the new diagnostic/treatment centre for which the contract has just been signed, we are told. It will take a significant slice of income from the acute trust. It may also result in the loss of medical staff. The labour politicians will tell you that it means more choice and shorter waiting times. Who could resist that? What they won’t tell you is that it is compulsory, no matter what is best for the local health service as a whole. Nor will they tell you how much it removes from the income of the acute trust. Most importantly they will not tell you that the loss of income and possibly staff will seriously undermine the safety of acute/emergency care in West Cumbria.

As a patient, ask yourself which is more important: the waiting time for a hernia/hip/cataract operation or the safe and prompt treatment of major trauma victims, patients with perforated bowels, ruptured blood vessels and heart attacks?

The truth is that the government has already decided without asking you. They want waiting times for outpatient appointments and elective surgery times as low as they can get them.

That sounds good in the House of Commons. They seem either ignorant or disinterested in the effect that these changes will have on emergency care. Nowhere does this matter more than in a geographically isolated area (in modern medical terms) like West Cumbria. Although some of the medical staff at the hospital are involved in planning, they can always be accused of trying to protect their own jobs. So it is the people of the area who need to make their voice heard, remembering that by the time a “public consultation” comes round, the decisions have usually been made already. The inhabitants of West Cumbria who have provided labour with two safe seats for generations need to start asking some very serious questions of Messrs Reed and Cunningham.

You need to do it soon, be ready for the usual political platitudes and insist on proper answers.

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