The Westmorland Gazette has launched a major campaign to safeguard services at Westmorland General Hospital.
‘Hands off Our Hospital’ follows revelations that services could be moved away from the Kendal site, or out of NHS control, as part of a £165m project being considered by Morecambe Bay healthcare trust bosses.
The proposals were revealed last week by a pair of consultants following a meeting they attended with Jackie Daniel, chief executive of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.
They claimed Ms Daniel suggested services at the site could be moved elsewhere – with the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in line for investment of £150m and Furness General Hospital in line for another £15m.
They also say that Ms Daniel discussed the idea that WGH could be ‘gifted’ to a ‘social enterprise’.
Now readers are being urged to get behind the campaign – which has been backed by unions, MPs, councillors and local people – in a bid to stop any such proposals being given the green light.
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Specifically the campaign is seeking assurances that:
* GPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust will protect the future of Westmorland General Hospital (WGH) at Kendal
* The site will not be transferred or ‘gifted’ to a third party and the site, services and staff will remain in the hands of the NHS
“I’m delighted the Gazette is launching a campaign to protect NHS services in Kendal,” said a WGH consultant, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of colleagues in the hospital and we’re all very happy with the services provided at Kendal and do not think there’s a good case – clinical or otherwise – for moving services away.
“I hope people will get behind it and fight to ensure the hospital remains safe.”
The proposal was made as part of the Better Care Together process, which is being led by GPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and UHMBT, to create a long-term plan for healthcare around the bay.
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This week the Gazette asked Dr Hugh Reeve, chair of the Cumbria CCG, to give ‘categorical assurances’ on behalf of Better Care Together that existing services will be maintained at WGH.
“We can’t at this time give those assurances because we haven’t finished the process,” he said.
“Why would we be doing the review if we could say that all existing services will stay the same?”
And in a blog posted online last Friday, Ms Daniel said it was ‘unlikely’ the outcome of Better Care Together will be to “stay as we are and ‘tinker’ around the edges”.
“I do believe that if we work together we can create a system that we can all be proud of, but we do have to think beyond bricks and mortar,” she continued.
“This isn’t the time to be protective about traditional organisational boundaries.”
The Gazette’s campaign mirrors one launched by South Lakes MP Tim Farron last week, in the wake of the revelations.
Last night almost 3,000 people had already signed their support.
“I am deeply disturbed by these proposals to ‘gift’ our hospital to a private company,” said Mr Farron.
“The pressure is on for University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust to give a clear and unambiguous assurance that Westmorland General Hospital is safe.”
He added: “We will not tolerate any threat to our hospital.”
Yesterday he raised the issue with Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he would work with Mr Farron on the issue.
Local people have also spoken out in support of their hospital.
“If the consultants are against this proposal the trust will have a very difficult fight on its hands,” said Dr David Earnshaw, of Ambleside, who works at the hospital as a duty doctor.
“People see Westmorland General Hospital as their guardian, their gatekeeper.”
He added: “I would put in everything I could muster against this.”
And Alan Price, secretary of South Lakes Health Action, said he would ‘particularly encourage’ anyone living in the area to take an interest in how their local hospital could be affected.
“This is our opportunity to say what we need from our local NHS service providers,” he said.
Now several people have called for those working on the Better Care Together programme to be clear about what could happen to the site.
“Senior management from the trust haven’t actually spoken to me and it’s been two weeks since they met with consultants,” said Kirk Panter, staff-side chair for non-medical unions.
“That in itself is quite worrying.”
The Gazette coupons which have been signed by readers will be presented to the Better Care Together team ahead of a decision being made later this year.