Hospital service cuts come a step closer

CUTS to services at the Conquest are a step closer this week after hospital trust managers voted in favour of a proposal to ‘reconfigure’ three key departments.

The bosses say the changes would improve the quality of care offered at both the hospital on The Ridge, and its sister site, Eastbourne DGH.

But opponents say they are playing with the lives of people in both towns and across the county.

‘Substantial changes’ look set to be made to general surgery services, musculoskeletal and orthopaedic services, and stroke services. This means emergency treatment and higher risk surgery for the above will be based at either the Conquest or the DGH, but not both hospitals.

A host of other services, including maternity, paediatrics and cardiology, are also still under threat but East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs both sites, has passed the responsibility to the board of NHS Sussex Primary Care Trust (PCT).

The trust also wants to reconfigure trauma services at both hospitals which means A&E will be downgraded at either the DGH or the Conquest, but neither will close.

Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “Nothing has changed over the last four years since we successfully fought similar proposals. It’s still the same road and the same argument. I don’t know what has magically changed.

“People will die. It’s as simple as that.

“This was the argument we used with maternity and the same would apply for emergency surgery, because this must be kept local. It’s just impossible to get to the other hospital in time.

“I despair that they (managers) can’t see what they are doing to the community. When this goes out to consultation people will be out on the streets protesting.”

Hospital bosses voted in favour of the proposal on Wednesday while discussing Shaping our Future: The Clinical Strategy, an unpopular blueprint which could see a dramatic reduction in services at both hospitals.

If the proposal is agreed by the board of NHS Sussex, due to meet as the Observer went to press yesterday (Thursday), the controversial changes will go to a 12-week public consultation.

Stuart Welling, trust chairman, said: “The board has agreed the clinical strategy is the way forward and now we are moving forward to consider how we might implement that.”

The trust said basing these services at one hospital rather than two makes better sense financially, will attract a higher quality of staff, and will be more efficient.

Andy Slater, the joint medical director, denied the strategy is about saving money.

He said: “This is about providing the highest quality service for patients, it’s not about downgrading.”