Hospital campaigner again leads battle to save services

Nick Yeo receives petitions from Liz Walke, Margaret Williams and Mike Parris when services were last threatened
Nick Yeo receives petitions from Liz Walke, Margaret Williams and Mike Parris when services were last threatened

A LEADING hospital campaigner has slammed NHS bosses’ proposals to potentially cut three key services at either the Conquest or Eastbourne’s DGH.

Margaret Williams, chairman of the Hands Off The Conquest campaign group, said such a move could lead to the downgrading of A&E, even though managers at the local hospital trust stressed they have no such plans.

The move comes after Dr Andy Slater, joint medical director at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs both the Conquest and DGH, gave a full interview to the Observer last week outlining the proposals for general surgery, musculoskeletal and orthopaedic services, and stroke services.

He admitted up to 15 patients a day will have to travel either to Eastbourne or Hastings, NHS bosses said, if the proposals come into effect.

General surgery deals with abdominal organs, such as the stomach and intestines, and the higher risk and emergency work will be based at either the Conquest or DGH.

Emergency orthopaedics, such as fractured hips, would also be centralised at one or the other hospital, similarly with stroke services.

Mrs Williams said: “If you lose too many emergency services, then A&E becomes unsustainable because there is not sufficient foot fall.

“Losing trauma from a hospital in essence is downgrading A&E. This would also mean an increased number of patients attending the remaining A&E unit with the obvious increase in waiting times.

“We have always stated that we understand that the NHS is under great financial pressure and something has to give. We understand that the running of certain specialities will have to change, but we have also stated that emergency services must be kept at both the Conquest and the Eastbourne DGH. On that point we will always fight.”

Last week Dr Slater said the trust’s vision was to create a ‘gold standard’ of health care.

He highlighted one of the biggest problems facing the hospital trust was a shortage of specialist doctors and nurses, and those who have qualified, choosing to work elsewhere, rather than in Hastings or Eastbourne, even though the trust had the money to fill vacancies.

Dr Slater also said there were not enough patients, for example in stroke services, to enable specialists to practice and maintain their skills. The Trust also had a small number of surgical consultants at both the Conquest and DGH, which meant they were only working on an emergency capacity every four days. Because of this, operations were being cancelled and emergency patients’ treatment delayed.

But Mrs Williams said: “Vast numbers of residents do not own a car, cannot afford taxis and have to rely on a less than perfect public transport system.

“There is no motorway or links between the Hastings and Eastbourne hospitals by dual carriageway. That particular road, the A259, has been dubbed one of the most dangerous roads in the country. Even the Hastings/Bexhill Link Road has now been put on the back burner since the campaigners have been granted the right to a judicial review.

“One of the arguments used by the Trust for single siting any speciality is that it is unable to recruit the necessary consultants. Is it any wonder? Would anybody, newly qualified or not, want to come to work for a hospital trust that is always at odds with its residents.

“Yes, specialist centres are the ideal, however if you cannot reach them in time their usefulness becomes obsolete.

“We are also told that cardiology may be reconfigured as well. One could ask: “What is left?

“We would like to remind residents that later in the year there will be yet another public consultation on maternity services and we will have to fight to keep two consultant-led units once again.”

Public consultation on the latest proposals started on Monday. People can make their views known by logging onto www.esht.nhs.uk/shapingourfuture or visiting www.handsofftheconquest.org or joining the campaign on its handsofftheconquest Facebook page.