Councillors battling NHS plans to close hospital services have criticised proposals to “raise the bar” for objecting to the closures, saying the logic behind the move is “insulting”.
The comments follow an announcement last week by Sir Ian Carruthers, the health chief in charge of a review on the subject, who said councils would have to provide “more convincing” evidence when they opposed NHS reconfigurations.
Sir Ian said it was “inadequate” for local authority scrutiny committees to oppose NHS shake-ups in their area because they “don’t like it”, adding that he was set to recommend that any objections would have to show the plans failed under four “tests”: safety, patient choice and engagement, clinical evidence and support from clinical commissioning groups.
Julian Bell (Lab), leader of Ealing LBC, whose scrutiny committee last week requested that the health secretary review a proposed downgrade of four west London A&E units, described Sir Ian’s comments as “insulting”.
“These are big decisions and they require councils to use their hearts and their heads, but primarily their heads”, he said. “To suggest that local government isn’t taking this issue seriously is frankly wrong and insulting because this is something our residents are very concerned about, as are clinicians”.
Cllr Bell said he thought the problem with reconfiguration debates was “the opposite” of that described by Sir Ian.
“Our letter of objection used the four tests that the government and the NHS work to, but we’ve had no detailed response from the NHS,” he said.
John Illingworth (Lab), chair of Yorkshire and the Humber’s joint health scrutiny committee, said his experience of opposing the planned closure of a children’s heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary raised similar issues.
“The NHS needs to look in the mirror before it starts asking councils for better evidence”, he said. “I don’t see any problem with the four tests, but in our case we thought the NHS wasn’t following those tests itself”.
Jim Clark (Con) chairs North Yorkshire CC’s health scrutiny committee, which has asked the health secretary to review plans to end consultant-led maternity services at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton. He told LGC: “Those four tests would be fine for me, and I agree that it’s important that we don’t just issue an objection because we don’t like what’s being proposed”.
Cllr Clark admitted some of his committee’s evidence was “from parents with sick children, who would suffer if the facility wasn’t there” - but he added that these concerns had to be considered alongside hard evidence.
Sir Ian was appointed by NHS chief Sir David Nicholson last autumn to carry out a review of the process by which the NHS reorganises local services.
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