FURIOUS campaigners walked out of a key county council health meeting today claiming county councillors were not doing a good enough job scrutinising plans for “the biggest shake up of the health service since 1948”.
The group from the “Protect Chorley and South Ribble Hospital Against Cuts and Privatisation” campaign had earlier mounted a placard waving protest outside county hall.
The council’s Health Scrutiny Committee was meeting to quiz regional health bosses on progress on the developing “Lancashire and South Cumbria Sustainability and Transformation Plan”.
In turn councillors criticised health bosses for producing an unintelligible plan written in officialese and not having a timetable for the introduction of any changes to health services.
Protect campaign spokesman Mr Andrew Birchall said: “Sustainability to us means cuts, more cuts across services especially acute services and hospitals and transformation means privatisation...Councillors were making statements and not asking detailed questions.”
Fellow protestor Hazel Baxendale also stressed there as an ongoing need for the accident and emergency unit at Chorley hospital to reopen for 24 hours a day.
In the meeting itself, which the public could attend as observers only, councillors criticised the way the latest information on the Transformation Plan had been written and presented, arguing the officialese was incomprehensible and there was a need for much plainer English.
This is the first time councils and health services have worked so closely together on future planning and service delivery proposals.
Samantha Nicol, Programme Director for Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria promise that within weeks there would be clearer information and leaflets available to the public.
There were also complaints that consultation on the plans so far had not extended to inviting councillors to attend events.
Raising particular concerns over what would happen in Preston Coun Yousuf Motala highlighted problems of deprivation and its ongoing impact on people’s health.
He asked what would happen to people while the changes were being implemented: “The issue for me is that it is still going to be a long journey ..another 20/30 or 40 years. There are a lot of issues around literacy, people’s access to IT (information technology).”
Meanwhile, calling for more specific information, Coun Gina Dowding said there would be “difficult decisions to make” adding “there are going to be cuts for some services. We need to have the full facts.”
She also warned against future “victim blaming” saying people did not choose to be unhealthy or obese.
Afterwards comitee chairman Coun Steve Holgate said there was a need for intelligible and readily understood information to be made available so it could be debated and scrutinised: “You can’t have a proper conversation about an issue if nobody understands what it says. The biggest concerns about the plan is there is no indication it can be funded effectively and there seems to be no time scales. Nobody is happy about the way the process has taken place so far.”
He added there was now a concern that plans to avoid ill health and create a wellness service were now being “driven by a need to balance budgets.”