12 September 2008
An expert panel on NHS change has insisted its decision to back the reduction of services at two hospitals will lead to 'high-quality' local health services.
The Independent Reconfiguration Panel recommended the downgrading of accident & emergency and maternity services at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, north London, and the removal of cardiac and acute services from Bridlington Hospital in east Yorkshire.
The panel rejected proposals from two primary care trusts in east Sussex to downgrade maternity care at Eastbourne District General Hospital. All of the IRP's recommendations were accepted by Health Secretary Alan Johnson.
The panel, chaired by Dr Peter Barrett, a former GP and chair of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, was created in 2003 to advise the secretary of state on controversial health service changes.
Local authority overview and scrutiny committees have the power to refer local health service plans for consideration.
The Eastbourne proposals, by East Sussex Downs and Weald PCT and Hastings and Rother PCT, were rejected 'on the grounds that they would reduce accessibility and choice for the people of East Sussex'.
Lewes MP Norman Baker described the decision as a 'major victory' for campaigners.
The IRP recommendations, published on September 4, prompted anger from other areas. The Save Chase Farm group said the decision showed 'a blatant disregard for public opinion' and was 'injurious to public health'.
On the Bridlington decision, the national officer for health at the trade union Unite, Karen Reay, said it was 'a disaster for the citizens of Bridlington who deserved much better news after their vigorous campaigning to save the hospital's services'. She said the changes would put 'patients' lives at very great risk'.
A spokesman for the IRP told Public Finance that each review was looked at on a case-by-case basis. The panel decided that 'it was not in the best interests of women or their families for Eastbourne to lose its consultant maternity service'.
He said the panel had also advised against the downgrading of Horton Hospital in Oxfordshire in an earlier decision, with strong provisos introduced in other cases.