Council approves motion of 'regret' over downgrading of Grantham A&E, despite passionate opposition
Emotions ran high as councillors met to discuss the recent decision to downgrade Grantham Hospital’s A&E department.
An extraordinary meeting of South Kesteven District Council was called by Councillor Charmaine Morgan (unaligned) to discuss the recent decision to change Grantham Hospital's A&E department into a 24-hour urgent treatment centre (UTC).
Coun Morgan presented a motion that opposed the decision and called for a full restoration of 24/7 A&E services in Grantham.
However, the motion was amended and approved by the council, but Coun Morgan argued that it was a counter motion rather than an amendment of her original proposal.
When the A&E becomes a UTC, it is estimated by the Lincolnshire Commissioning Group that around 700 acutely ill local people will have to travel across Lincolnshire or out of the county per year for appropriate care, with Coun Morgan's original motion arguing that changes will result in "worsened medical outcomes for those people and put local lives at risk".
Following the amendment, the motion said that the Council “deeply regrets the downgrade of emergency services and supports the return of 24/7 access. It strongly hope this will be permanent and looks forward to the expansion as the town grows further.”
One of the key changes from Coun Morgan's original was the change of wording from the council "opposing" the downgrade to the council "deeply regretting" it.
Councillor Lee Steptoe (Lab) accused the amendment of "throwing in the towel".
He said: “You cannot remotely compare the acute services an A&E offers, with a UTC, so unfortunately, it looks like the ruling group has thrown in the towel.
“I really was hoping to come here today and talk on a cross-party consensus. How naive I was. I personally am frustrated beyond belief.
“I do think the Grantham community will be extremely disappointed when they hear about the outcome today. It’s obvious the way the vote is going to go."
“This has been stitched up before the meeting. The community deserves better, they will make their own judgements, and I’m now going to make better use of my time and teach teenage kids,” added Coun Steptoe, before leaving the meeting.
Although he supported the amendment, Councillor Ray Wootten (Ind) told the story of his recent stroke, which saw him waiting at Lincoln Hospital for 13 hours before he was admitted, which he described as "disgraceful".
Coun Wootten said: "I do worry that Lincoln A&E will not cope with patient numbers arriving from Grantham, as my experience shows that waiting times are too long."
The changes to Grantham Hospital would mean there would be 70 fewer acute care beds and no acute stroke care in the town.
Coun Morgan continued: “I’m heartbroken and inwardly furious because it’s not the people in here who may suffer from this, but the vulnerable, elderly people who we have so lightly dismissed.
“If you vote for this, it will be the death knell of our A&E and it will be on your hands, because you’ve failed your communities, you’ve failed the 6,000 people in our High Street who marched for that hospital.
“Lives are at risk, we have a duty of care for everyone in our community."
Councillors welcomed the return of 24/7 care in Grantham, but concerns were raised on how the future expansion plans of the town and resulting population growth would impact healthcare.
Councillor Kelham Cooke, leader of SKDC, defended the amended motion. He said: "We need to appreciate that the decision is ultimately taken by the hospital trust and clinical commissioning group and outside of that, it lands at the county council in terms of their health scrutiny.
“Healthcare across the Grantham area is incredibly important. It’s always been important that we get those doors open 24/7 with unrestricted access.
“We need that debate on the long-term future of healthcare across our district because it is vital that we start to factor in the future growth plans of this area to make sure we have the best healthcare moving forwards."
The Urgent Treatment Centre is expected to be fully operational in the next 12 to 18 months.
Following the meeting, Coun Morgan commented: "Despite what happened [on Tuesday], I haven't given up yet. Whether we will get our A&E back out of it I don't know, but I certainly think there are challenges to be made still."