Save the DGH campaigners were left crushed this afternoon after a health committee agreed to press ahead with changes to services at the hospital.
The health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC) agreed controversial plans to focus emergency orthopaedic surgery and emergency general surgery at the Conquest in Hastings – a move which would see an average of 15 patients a day have to travel between the two sites.
This was East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust final hurdle to overcome. Campaigners had hoped the committee would vote to send the decision to health secretary Jeremy Hunt but the vote to agree with the trust’s original decision was carried by seven votes to five.
HOSC members also voted that acute stroke services should be provided only at Eastbourne DGH.
The chair 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’.
A coach-load of Save the DGH campaigners were protesting at the meeting and Liz Walke, from Save the DGH, presented a petition, signed by nearly 37,000 locals, to members of HOSC.
However, East Sussex Healthcare Trust, said they believed people had been misled when signing the petition.
Darren Grayson, chief executive of the trust, 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.”
Amanda Philpott, from NHS Sussex clinical commissioning groups, added, “I do not for one minute think Mrs Walke has been promoting that view but that has come out in public perception.
However, speaking after the meeting, Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said the ‘slur’ made by trust managers was ‘disgraceful’ and he paid tribute to all those who had signed the petition.
He said, “I have been around for a long while and I have never seen anything like it.
“It shows the strength of feeling.”
At the meeting, hospital bosses said specialist centres were what was needed for East Sussex. They said the ‘Shaping the Future’ proposals before the committee 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’.
He added, “This is why London has done it, and this is why London is getting the benefits of saving lives – I want East Sussex to have those benefits too.”
But campaigners argue journey times will cause problems for patients and put lives at risk. 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 trust will present a progress report at the HOSC meeting in March 2013 so that the proposal can be monitored.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr David Tutt, leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, who has long supported the cross-party Save the DGH campaign, said, “We will be taking legal advice, as a campaign group, on our next steps and will be looking seriously towards a judicial review.”
Stephen Lloyd said, “ I think it is an outrageous decision. The campaign group will now be meeting the secretary of state in the very near future.”
Mr Lloyd said the committee should have referred the decision to an independent body and added, “The fact they didn’t flies in the face of logic and we will continue to do everything in our power to stop this in its tracks.”