By Local Democracy Reporter
THERE is a “real fear” that plans to close Orsett Hospital and overhaul healthcare across Essex are not right, the chair of Thurrock’s health scrutiny committee has warned.
Labour Councillor Victoria Holloway said she wants the healthcare transformation plans announced in July to be scrutinised by the secretary of state because residents’ concerns need to be represented.
The scrutiny committee voted that the plans should be referred to health secretary Matt Hancock during a meeting on November 8, a decision that could jeopardise NHS plans to close Orsett Hospital and delay £118million in funding for the transformation.
It could also delay aspects of the plan that are proposed for outside of Thurrock, impacting almost half of Essex.
The final details of the referral will be decided at an extraordinary meeting held on December 5 and the committee does not need the council’s support for it to happen.
If it goes ahead it, Thurrock will be the second authority to have made a referral after Southend made the same decision in October after councillors said it was not clear how the plans would benefit patients.
Councillor Holloway said: “We need to represent residents in Thurrock. They are concerned about the closure of the hospital and haven’t been given the assurance that it will benefit the borough. Of course, we want positive health in Thurrock and want it closer to homes, but we need to make sure that is what people are getting.
“We share Southend’s view that we need reassurance that every eventuality has been looked at.”
She added that it is “not a political decision”, despite the Conservative-led administration remaining fully in support of the transformation. In Southend the decision was made unanimously by councillors from all parties, including the Tories.
Conservative Councillor James Halden, who is responsible for education and health in Thurrock, said: “This is an attempt to look at South Essex as one, with less concern over geographical boundaries and say how do we deliver better health care.
“I would not have voted for the referral if I was a Southend councillor.
“We support these proposals. We worked with our clinical commissioning group colleagues to shape these proposals and to ensure no clinical services are lost. Orsett will only be closed once replacement health facilities have been opened.
“The Labour group has been saying they want to refer this to the secretary of state since the decision was published in July but they have not done it. If they want to, they need to do their jobs and call it in so we can address it.”
Speaking of the possibility of a Thurrock referral, Mandy Ansell, accountable officer for NHS Thurrock CCG said: “Whilst we recognise the important role scrutiny plays in enabling councillors to examine our plans, we are obviously disappointed given our extensive engagement with members both before and during the consultation period.
“We are committed to continuing to work with them and demonstrate our confidence that replacing the outdated site at Orsett with four new medical centres will enable us to provide the best possible care for our local communities right across Thurrock.”