Grantham Hospital campaigners were claiming a major breakthrough today (Wednesday) after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was drawn further into the heart of the dispute.
Following an overwhelming vote by the county council’s health scrutiny committee, campaigners now hope the minister will personally intervene in the battle over the future of the hospital’s accident and emergency department.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) reduced the opening hours to 9am-6.30pm due to a lack of qualified doctors and support staff. A recruitment drive is under way but the committee said it is not convinced adequate cover will be in place for a proposed 24-hour re-opening in February.
Grantham’s four county councillors, who are all campaigning for the reinstatement of a full 24-hour emergency service at the hospital, were delighted with the backing from fellow members from across the county.
They believe the overwhelming support condemning the temporary overnight closure of the unit – which began on August 17 – will put pressure on the minister to carry out a review.
Campaigners say Mr Hunt can now be in no doubt about the strength of feeling in Grantham and the wider community following a message from the committee contained in three hard-hitting motions that were overwhelmingly agreed. The votes are significant because they highlight concerns which campaigners beleive oblige the minister to intervene.
The committee concluded that although indicated as temporary, the closure is in effect permanentCommittee chairman Coun Christine Talbot
* That the overnight closure is a substantial variation to the normal working;
* That the committee was not convinced by assurances from the health trust that runs the hospital that A&E services will be reinstated by February and that the closure is in fact permanent;
* That the overnight closure is not in the interest of the residents of Grantham and surrounding area and should therefore be referred to the Secretary of State.
Among those to speak at today’s health scrutiny meeting was Melissa Darcey, of Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital.
Councillor Christine Talbot, chairman of the health scrutiny committee, said: “We do not believe that overnight A&E services will be reinstated by February 2017, in fact the committee concluded that although indicated as temporary, the closure is in effect permanent.
“It has reached the stage where we have to take this action to refer to the Secretary of State – otherwise things are going nowhere. ULHT have a recruitment problem but there seems to be no final solution in sight and it may be months before adequate staff are available on the floor.
“Enough is enough and the people of Grantham deserve better. ULHT cannot keep using patient safety as an excuse to remain closed overnight. This will now rest in the hands of the Secretary of State for Health to consider.”
Grantham Coun Ray Wootten said the move to refer the matter to the Secretary of State was excellent news. He said: “I am really pleased and thankful to the committee for listening to our concerns. The message goes out that residents of Grantham believe the overnight closure of A&E was the wrong decision and we look forward to it being re-examined.”
Meanwhile, Coun Charmaine Morgan, who is also chairman of campaign group SOS Grantham Hospital, said the committee’s support was a vital development in the campaign. She added: “The county health scrutiny committee is the main democratic way in which the community can have a say, so the vote is very important.
“Given the concerns over NHS issues nationally, including patient numbers at A&E units, it would be very foolhardy of the secretary of state not to listen to a significant rural community in Lincolnshire.”
Coun Linda Wootten, who is also the current Mayor of Grantham, said she was delighted by the decisions, which showed democracy at work.
She said: “We have been scrutinising the work of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust for nine years and this means we have been listened to.
“We believe this means that the trust will have to go in front of the secretary of state to justify its actions.”
The decision to close Grantham’s A&E department overnight was made by ULHT, supported by NHS England, NHS Improvement and South West Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group to temporarily close the A&E between 6.30pm and 9am. The decision was taken in response to circumstances that have led to a staffing crisis situation within A&E departments.
Campaigners Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital and SOS Grantham Hospital has held two protest marches through Grantham, with further action planned.