IF anyone wants to know how bitter a pill it is for ordinary people to lose life-saving services, speak to Dr Richard Taylor, the man who fought to save Kidderminster Hospital.
The former MP and others who shared his fight more than a decade ago have a distinct feeling of déjà vu although now it is the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch in the firing line.
Two petitions against downgrading Kidderminster attracted 100,000 signatures between them, not to mention the 20,000 letters and postcards to the Department of Health from people outraged at the loss of services at a hospital which can trace its origins back more than 150 years to the town’s philanthropic carpet barons.
Now it is the ‘Save the Alex Campaign’ in the headlines and the people of Redditch waving placards as a fresh wave of public anger sweeps over Worcestershire.
When Kidderminster Hospital lost its A&E in 2000 it was one of a few charter marked for excellence.
Meanwhile, Worcester got a new and highly-controversial PFI hospital, saddling Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust with debts it will not clear until 2032.
Dr Taylor said: “It was absolutely devastating for people here.
Kidderminster was exemplary as a hospital in every way.
“The people in Redditch are making the same noises we were.”
The 77-year-old, a former consultant physician at the hospital he attempted to defend, became Wyre Forest’s MP on a tide of public outrage in 2001 before losing his seat to Mark Garnier in 2010.
Dr Taylor confesses he has been haunted by the impact of the downgrading on the people of Kidderminster and understands the anguish felt in Redditch.
“I can think of two cases where almost certainly the person would not have died if they had an A&E here.”
One of them, he said, was a sevenyear- old boy and the other a man who had a cardiac arrest in the ambulance as it drove past Kidderminster Hospital.
Dr Taylor recalls a case where a couple, discharged from hospital late at night, were picked up by police on the M5 walking home to Kidderminster from Worcestershire Royal Hospital after getting lost. Discharge arrangements are already a problem for people from Kidderminster who need emergency care in Worcester with a taxi home costing about £50. If the Alexandra is downgraded the problem will affect even more people in the same way.
In this latest ‘joint services review’ NHS hospital bosses hope by ‘reconfiguring’ services they can claw back £50 million over the next three years.
This would help bridge a growing chasm between the cash available and the crippling demands on the NHS from a growing elderly population and the rising costs of new drugs and treatments.
NHS leaders in Worcestershire have drawn up six models.
The first two involve keeping an accident and emergency department open at both Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester and the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch.
These models have already effectively been ruled out because they would compromise the quality of patient care or because of problems recruiting enough consultants.
The other four models all mean only one A&E for Worcestershire, which many believe would have to be in Worcester, the newer PFI hospital which opened in 2002. Dr Taylor believes not all possible models have been investigated properly and is calling for a rigorous open review of all NHS expenditure across Worcestershire, including the possibility of senior NHS staff taking pay cuts.
He added: “There’s pain associated with loss of services.
The hospital that gains – in this case Worcester – has to share the pain with patients that would have been seen at Worcester for their elective care having to travel to Redditch and Kidderminster.”
There must be replacement services available at Worcester before they remove them from Redditch, he said.
He said option D (see panel) would effectively downgrade Redditch in the same way as Kidderminster was more than 10 years ago but option C would mean Redditch would keep more of its services (the bulk of medical admissions) and there would be no change to services offered at Kidderminster.
He added: “It would be completely mad if they take anything from here. We have the capacity at Kidderminster to do even more elective surgery. If we get model C, Redditch will be far better off than Kidderminster was.
“The thing that terrifies me at the moment is they are putting values on the various criteria in a sort of psuedo-scientific exercise.”
A decision on a preferred option is set to take place in December following public consultation.
OPTIONS: THE SIX MODELS UNDER CONSIDERATION
A No change (all hospital services maintained as they are) but bosses say this will not meet future minimum quality standards.
B Two acute hospital sites (each with full A&E). All hospital services would stay the same except women and children’s services which would be brought together on one site. This option is not considered safe and would lead to a shortage of consultants.
C One acute hospital site (with a full A&E), one acute site with an urgent care centre and one hospital treatment centre with a minor injuries unit.
This would mean one acute hospital with a full A&E, trauma services, emergency medicine and women and children’s services.
This model would involve no change to Kidderminster Treatment Centre which would continue to offer a minor injuries unit, less complex elective surgery, a rehabilitation ward, outpatients and support services.
D One acute hospital site (with full A&E), one hospital providing planned surgery with a minor injuries unit and one hospital treatment centre (including planned surgery which could become a centre of excellence) with a minor injuries unit. There would be no emergency admissions. This model would also involve no change to Kidderminster Treatment Centre.
Keeping planned surgery separate from emergency care would also reduce disruption of planned surgery.
E One acute hospital site (with a full A&E) and one hospital providing planned surgery and a minor injuries unit. In this model one acute hospital will have a full A&E, trauma services, emergency medicine, women’s and children’s services and facilities for complex emergency surgery, outpatients and support services. The second hospital would focus on planned surgery and provide a minor injuries unit and outpatients. This hospital will not be able to assess any adults with emergency medical problems and there would be no emergency admissions. A minor injuries unitwould be kept in Kidderminster but not necessarily at the hospital.
F One acute hospital site (with a full A&E department).
The second and third hospital sites would be closed but a minor injuries unit, outpatients and diagnostics would be maintained in those areas although not necessarily on the existing hospital sites.