CONCERNS have been raised that a vote granting the government powers to close hospitals could impact on healthcare services in Worcestershire.
On Tuesday MPs voted in favour of Clause 119 of the Care Bill, which allows health secretary Jeremy Hunt to close or downgrade hospitals – even if they are performing well – if a neighbouring trust is struggling financially.
Labour has said the clause, which was approved by 297 votes to 239, put the future of a number of NHS trusts including Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust – which is currently facing a deficit of more than £13 million at the end of this financial year – in peril.
As neighbouring trusts in Herefordshire and Shropshire are also facing financial difficulties, concerns have been raised that services in Worcestershire could be cut without public consultation to balance the books elsewhere.
Chairman of Save the Alex – a campaign group fighting to protect Redditch’s Alexandra Hospital from closure – Neil Stote said he was deeply concerned that the clause could place the hospital and further risk.
"Save The Alex hope to continue to work with our MP to get the best possible deal for the Alex,” he said.
“However, given the state of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust finances and the real risk of it going into administration meaning clause 119 comes into effect, the public, Save The Alex, our councillors and even our MP would have no say on the final outcome"
Although the Department of Health has said the clause would be used only as a “last resort”, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said it was serious cause for concern.
"With more and more hospitals in financial difficulty, this move could hit every community in the land and leave them voiceless in the face of changes to their services,” he said.
"Changes to hospitals should be driven by clinical, not financial, reasons with local people involved every step of the way.
“That is why we believe these plans are dangerous and wrong.”
Worcester’s MP Robin Walker did not vote in Tuesday’s ballot as he was in South Africa.