Monday, December 05, 2005

Don’t drop your guard!

On the face of it, the decision to postpone consultations on proposals to emasculate Millom Community hospital, as well as half a dozen other community hospitals around Cumbria, is to be welcomed.

I am certainly pleased that the local NHS trusts and the Strategic Health Authority appear to have woken up to the depth of public support for local community hospitals and the harm which major cuts in the services they provide would do.

But the hospitals have only had a reprieve: we are not out of the woods yet. Underlying problems with money and recruitment & retention still remain for the NHS in Cumbria and need to be tackled. And after all, we have been here before.

Last year, when the review of services was launched and it was suggested that Millom Community hospital might be adversely affected, the Chief Executive of the Primary Care Trust came to a public meeting in Millom and stated that there were no plans to close Millom Hospital. I am not suggesting that this statement was made in bad faith, but it is now clear that the fact that the trust was not planning to close the building did not mean that services at the hospital were safe.

During the run up to the General Election both the Chief Executive of the NHS Acute Services trust and the then Labour parliamentary candidate, now MP, for Copeland stated that there was no threat to West Cumberland Hospital. Since the election half the mental health services have been transferred away from Windermere ward and a serious threat is hanging over maternity services.

However pleased we are that the proposals for local hospitals are to be reviewed, the danger has only been postponed and has not necessarily gone away.

It was once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Those who value local hospital services will be well advised to watch the local NHS trusts like a hawk.

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