‘Grantham is shoved to the back to the queue for everything’

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Fears for the future of Grantham without “vital” health services were voiced at a public meeting held by the East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) last night (Thursday).

Not only did members of the public present air concerns over the loss of the town’s ambulance station, but also the loss of services at Grantham Hospital.

One woman shouted out “Grantham is shoved to the back of the queue for everything” when EMAS director of finance Jon Sargeant mentioned an ambulance hub is suggested for Sleaford rather than Grantham. This was quickly followed by comments on NHS Lincolnshire’s plans to rid Grantham Hospital of its maternity unit.

The purpose of the meeting at King’s Hotel yesterday evening was to discuss a consultation launched by EMAS entitled ‘Being the Best’, which aims to scrap 66 ambulance stations across the region and instead purpose-build hubs.

Mr Sargeant started the meeting with a presentation of the plans.

Afterwards, district councillor Ian Selby, a member of Last GASP (Grantham Ambulance Station Protest), addressed the room.

He said: “In Grantham in recent years we have seen a gradual erosion of our town by people in authority that do not live in our town. Those people do not have our town’s best interests at heart and they are constantly wieldling an axe and chipping away at our town’s infrastructure. They want to put up the sign ‘Grantham closed for business’.

“The very latest axe has been wielded only this week on our maternity service unit at Grantham Hospital. No more Granthamians.”

Mr Selby went on to say that a town the size of Grantham without a hub will receive a service which does not meet its needs.

He added: “We are sick to the back teeth of this attitude towards our town and we want the rot to stop, right now.”

On behalf of Last GASP, he made three demands of EMAS; the guarantee of a hub for Grantham, the publication of figures which reveal where its estate maintenance budget has been spent and long-term stability of proposals agreed to the satisfaction of Grantham people.

Mr Sargeant said every town he has consulted in “feels similarly” abouting wanting a hub, and added that he could not make that guarantee.

On hearing stories told by members of the public about long delays in ambulance arrivals, one gentleman called out for the concept of hubs and associated points to be “given a chance”.

He said: “I think, to come extent, it’s a good idea but it needs to be given a chance.

“If people are waiting all these hours for an ambulance something has to be done. Let’s try something new.”

Issues raised by the public during the meeting were:

* Under the plans, the nearest hub to Grantham will be Sleaford. This drew numerous comments during the public meeting with people demanding to know why a much smaller town should have a hub when Grantham, a town expected to have a population of over 60,000 by 2026, should make do with a community ambulance post and stand-by points. Mr Sergeant said the hubs were to be placed “around where staff live”, although he back-tracked from that comment later on.

* An added strain on voluntary emergency service LIVES was raised. Mr Sargeant said: “LIVES make a significant part of service provision, particularly in Lincolnshire, and we’re trying to work with them. They would not be affected by these changes.”

* John Morgan, a member of campaign group SOS Grantham Hospital, asked for assurances there would be no cuts to frontline jobs. Mr Sargeant said there would be an increase in frontline staff.

* One member of the public asked whether “a lack of facilities at Grantham Hospital added to the troubles with response times”. A colleague of Mr Sargeant’s admitted this is the case in that it takes ambulance crews much longer to travel to hospitals in Lincoln and Nottingham.

* A gentleman asked Mr Sargeant to make assurances that this consultation will be more “genuine” than others held recently, naming Lincolnshire County Council’s consultation over the closure of care homes, including Harrison House in Dysart Road.

* Morale of staff was a key issue raised, with one woman saying morale is currently “rock bottom”. She said staff have not been consulted about the plans. She added: “I feel the staff are where all the answers are going to come from.” Mr Sargeant replied that staff were being consulted alongside the public consultation.

The EMAS board will meet in January to discuss the outcome of the consultation. The new programme will be rolled out from April 2013.