CAMPAIGNERS have been left crushed after a health committee agreed to press ahead with controversial changes to services at both the Conquest Hospital and Eastbourne’s DGH.
The county’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) agreed to centralise stroke services at the DGH, while emergency orthopaedic surgery and emergency general surgery would be based at the Conquest on The Ridge.
Up to 15 patients a day will now have to travel 20 miles between the two hospitals to get treatment.
Campaigners from both Hands off the Conquest and Save the DGH had hoped HOSC would vote to send the decision to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt but the vote to agree with the hospital trust’s original proposals was carried by seven votes to five.
The chairman of the committee Cllr Rupert Simmons proposed both the motions and said he was doing so ‘in the best interests of health services for East Sussex’.
But Cllr Mike Turner, who sits on the Health and Wellbeing Board, was furious at HOSC’s decision.
He said: “There should be a reconfiguration of the HOSC panel. I feel very sorry for the residents of Hastings, as this area has the most health inequalities in the whole county.”
Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “We are very saddened as HOSC does not realise that lives are at stake, particularly in Rye and other outlying areas. All emergency core services should be at both hospitals because of the present road infrastructure.”
A coach-load of campaigners from Save the DGH protested at last Thursday’s meeting and Liz Walke, the group’s chairman, presented a petition, signed by nearly 37,000 people, to members of HOSC.
However East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust said it believed people had been misled when signing the petition.
Darren Grayson, trust chief executive, said: “People have asked me why I am closing the hospital. If that were the case and I was asked to sign a petition to save my hospital, I would sign it.”
At the meeting, hospital bosses said specialist centres were what was needed for East Sussex. They said the Shaping the Future proposals would ensure improved healthcare for East Sussex. Mr Grayson said London and other parts of the NHS had done the same and said East Sussex needed to ‘catch up’.
Councillors on HOSC raised numerous concerns about the proposals, but the majority agreed with the trust in the final vote. The changes will now start and the hospital trust will present a progress report at the next HOSC meeting in March 2013.
A spokesman for NHS Sussex said: “We want people in East Sussex to have excellent, safe and sustainable services for years to come. We are pleased that the HOSC has confirmed that our decision is in the interests of local people. We believe it will deliver better results for patients, better access to expert clinicians and better recovery rates. It will help us to keep two vibrant, major hospital sites in Eastbourne and in Hastings and ensure healthcare in East Sussex is fit for 2012 and beyond.”