THE fight to safeguard the future of Whitby Hospital has been taken to the very top of Government.
A delegation of five people – Whitby’s MP Robert Goodwill and four members of the Whitby Hospital Action Group (WHAG) headed to the Department of Health in London’s Whitehall where they met with Health Minister Simon Burns to discuss cuts to services and the introduction of the trial Hospital At Home scheme which has seen Abbey Ward close.
The meeting has been hailed a success by Mr Goodwill and spokeswoman for WHAG, Sarah Wyatt, who both said Mr Burns, who is responsible for the country’s hospitals, had stated “categorically” that Whitby Hospital is safe from closure.
He also assured the group that the Hospital At Home scheme is a pilot until April next year when it will be reviewed and, if the PCT wish to make it permanent, they would have to carry out a full consultation process. The minister added North Yorkshire County Council’s Scrutiny of Health Committee would be able to refer their decision to the Secretary of State.
The assurances contradict the feelings of many local people who fear the downgrading of the hospital could see it shut for good – something NHS North Yorkshire and York primary care trust which runs the hospital has always denied.
But the visit was not without a hitch – the group were caught up in the student protests which caused chaos in London and saw the Conservative party’s campaign headquarters at Millbank occupied by an angry mob who clashed with police.
Mr Goodwill told the Whitby Gazette: “Mr Burns could have been in no doubt of the anger people in Whitby feel that decisions are being made without proper consultation.
“He said there are no plans to close Whitby Hospital. I made it very clear that Whitby does need a hospital. Whether that’s in the existing building or whether we need to look at a new purpose built facility more attune to the actual needs of health care in Whitby.
“I’m also very sceptical the Hospital At Home scheme will work.
“In the medium-term the good news is if local GPs think the best place to treat their patients is Whitby Hospital, local GPs will control the purse strings and will make decisions on behalf of patients.”
Miss Wyatt added the meeting with Mr Burns was very useful.
“We had a robust discussion with him on the capital charge the hospital has to pay to the Government and we put it to the minister, as services are axed it will be difficult for the hospital to find money to pay the annual £900,000 rent,” she said.
“He did acknowledge it was a lot of money for a hospital run down by a PCT but he was not in a position to change it.”
Miss Wyatt added they will now be liaising with Mr Goodwill to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley.