A&E closure plans may be halted

Chorley A&E protesters
Chorley A&E protesters
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Labour claims it will halt closures of A&E departments if it gains power on June 8.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said he would launch a full-scale review of such proposals and stop the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) programme if Labour wins the General Election.

Earlier this year, Johnston Press Investigations team ran “The Great NHS Gamble” series which examined all the STP plans in detail and looked at reasons why they may be flawed, as well as speaking to experts, campaigners and patients about their views.

The findings revealed that dozens of A&E units across the country were facing closure or being downgraded as part of the plans.

In Lancashire, the A&Es at Chorley Hospital and Southport and Formby Hospital were on a list judged to be at risk by the Health Service Journal after an analysis of the documents.

Both hospitals were judged as being at “amber” risk.

Chorley’s A&E was temporarily closed in April 2016 due to staffing problems. It re-opened in January this year but still only operates for 12 hours a day.

Labour says it will stop the plans if it gains power.

Mr Ashworth said: “Labour will put the best interests of patients at the heart of our NHS, so I’m announcing we will halt planned closures to hospitals and other services.

“We will have a moratorium on the STPs.

“We have listened to the hundreds of patients and campaigners up and down the country that have been pleading with the Government to hear their concerns about their local services.

“Threats of hospitals being closed, A&E services moved miles up the road, and children’s wards being shut, have caused widespread concern and confusion.

“What is more, these decisions have been decided behind closed doors with no genuine involvement of local people. It’s a disgrace.

“The public deserves better. My first job as secretary of state will be to review every single STP proposal looking at what’s in the interest of quality of patient care.

“We’ll ask a new body - NHS Excellence - to lead that review. And patients and local communities will be involved at every stage.

“Local people should be at the heart of decisions about how care is provided.”

Responding to the plans, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This is just another nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn idea - last December his shadow health secretary backed these plans and Labour’s 2015 manifesto said they would do the same thing.

“These local plans are developed by local doctors and communities, backed by the top doctors and nurses of the NHS, and will improve patient care.

“This is all underpinned by an extra £10 billion for the NHS, which we can only afford thanks to our strong economy.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The purpose of the STP process was a good thing - to bring fragmented parts of the system together.

“But it is based on the fantasy that there is enough money to deliver this vision, when STPs will be hundreds of millions of pounds short.

“The real question is: which party is prepared to take the tough action to increase investment? Only the Lib Dems will make the case for increasing tax to guarantee the future of the NHS.

“The Conservatives are reorganising the deckchairs - while the good ship NHS is sinking because they are starving it of funds.

“Hospitals under the Conservatives will close because they are being starved of money, not for clinical reasons. That is a disgrace.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the STP process had created “false competitions” between towns and cities across the country to keep health services.

Speaking at a campaign event in Bedford, he said the figures to fund Labour’s plans would be published in the party’s manifesto, adding that there would be no tax rises for those on low or middle incomes.

Mr Corbyn said: “The Tories seem to have gone into desperation mode only two weeks into the election.

“They are the ones that are underfunding the NHS and, crucially, underfunding social care, which exacerbates the problems within the NHS.

“All of it is funded and we will not make any commitments that aren’t fully funded.”