THE decision by the health secretary to reject concerns about a major overhaul of health services across the region has been met with anger and frustration from councillors in Southend and Thurrock.
The decision from Matt Hancock was revealed on Tuesday after he had accepted recommendation from an independent panel, which said that problems raised by Southend and Thurrock Councils were not serious enough for the transformation to be halted.
Both Southend and Thurrock had urged the Government to review plans from the Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership because they felt they would not be in the interest of residents.
Southend Council leader, Councillor Ian Gilbert, said: “It was a cross-party decision to refer this issue to the Secretary of State and we are deeply disappointed that the referral has been rebuffed. We will consider further steps we can take.”
Councillor Lesley Salter, chair of Southend’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: “I endorse much of what the leader says and am also deeply disappointed.
“We now need to do all we can to hold the Mid and South Essex Hospitals Group to account and make sure these changes lead to better outcomes for our residents.”
Sir David Amess MP for Southend West said: “The panel is independent and I trust that it has made the decision based on clinician’s support for any changes.
“I have said all along that it is not for politicians to make these decisions and that any changes must be clinically led as it is the medical professionals who have the expertise to know how health services can be delivered in the best interests of all our residents.”
For Southend the decision to proceed with the plans means residents will see a series of major changes to healthcare treatment. This will include a treat and transfer model where patients are initially treated at their nearest hospital then transferred to whichever hospital in the area that specialises in their condition.
Southend Hospital’s stroke unit will also be relocated to Basildon.
In Thurrock, Orsett Hospital will close and be replaced by four Integrated Medical Centres across the borough. Councillors have been left divided over the news.
Labour Councillor Victoria Holloway, who chairs Thurrock’s health overview and scrutiny committee, said: “The health secretary has just signed the death warrant for our hospital at a time when our health service needs vital investment, not more cuts.
“It should not be an either/ or choice – we need to keep our hospital and grow our health infrastructure with the Integrated Medical Centres.”
However, Conservative Councillor James Halden, cabinet member for Health, said: “This is an amazing opportunity to invest large sums of money to unite primary, hospital and mental health care in the most modern facilities.
“I have read the opinion of the expert panel and am pleased to see that at every step of the way the medical experts have agreed that modern services, closer to where people live, bringing these different parts of the health system together is the best thing for local people.
“What is important to us now is making sure our communities benefit from this change and we make rapid progress on delivery of the new facilities before Orsett changes, we work with all partners and local people regarding re-location of services within Thurrock, and ensuring that the disposal of the Orsett site yields the best possible re-investment into our local health estate.
“I have arranged a meeting with officials from the NHS and am happy to meet with any Councillors who have questions or comments to make. Clearly, decisions about Thurrock should be made with Thurrock – that is what this plan represents and that is the co-operation we want to continue with.”
A spokesperson for the NHS campaign group Save Southend NHS, Mike Fieldhouse, said: “We are hugely disappointed but not entirely surprised. This government is hell-bent on privatising as much of the NHS as it thinks it can get away with.
“Save Southend NHS will continue to fight to keep the NHS in public hands, providing the best health care possible, free at the point of delivery. We will scrutinise any changes to services and alert the public to anything we believe is detrimental to general health provision and the public’s well- being.”