THOUSANDS of local people have issued a categorical ‘hands off’ to health bosses deciding the future of Westmorland General Hospital (WGH).
More than 3,200 coupons posted to the Gazette in support of its ‘Hands off our Hospital’ campaign, to safeguard services at WGH, were handed yesterday to the team overseeing a Morecambe Bay health review.
The campaign was launched after two whistleblowers, who work at the Burton Road hospital, revealed services could be moved away from the site or into the hands of a ‘social enterprise’ as part of a £165m project.
“I think it’s brilliant that so many people have stood up for their local hospital,” said one of the whistleblowers – a consultant at WGH, who asked to remain anonymous.
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“I’m delighted that the public has been so supportive of the hospital and its services and I’m delighted the coupons will be passed on to those who need to see them.”
The healthcare review – Better Care Together – is being carried out by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT), the Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the North Lancashire CCG.
Yesterday Gazette content editor Andrew Thomas handed the 3,181 coupons, which have been posted in or input online by readers, to Aaron Cummins, deputy chief executive of UHMBT.
“We are extremely pleased that so many people are interested in the future of services at Westmorland General Hospital,” he said. “We welcome their input.”
The response to the campaign has been hailed by MPs, councillors and local people.
“Folks in South Lakeland have as much right to get quality, safe healthcare as anyone who lives in more urban areas,” said Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron. “It’s fantastic so many have stood up for their hospital.”
Health campaigner Coun Matt Severn, of South Lakeland District Council, said: “It's really great that so many people from our community have stood up for our hospital.”
And retired Ambleside GP and UHMBT governor Dr David Earnshaw said: “It just does go to show that people locally do want the hospital to stay as it is, or indeed, improve.”
A consultation period for people to submit their views about local healthcare has been running for several months, and is set to end on June 20.
A shortlist of options will be released ahead of consultation, although no dates for this have yet been confirmed, according to a spokesman for the Cumbria CCG.
But there are now calls for the team overseeing the review to listen to the voices of local people, ahead of the shortlist being released.
“The commissioners must act on what local people are telling them,” said Jonathan Bowker, of the RCN union.
“Three thousand responses to the campaign run by the Gazette shows just how much people really value and rely on their local NHS services.
“It also underlines what the RCN has been saying for some time: all three trust sites must be retained and patient services safeguarded.
“Any plans to ‘gift’ the site or move services outside the NHS could fragment provision and affect the quality of care patients currently receive.”
The campaign came about after he and a colleague said they were present in a meeting when chief executive of UHMBT Jackie Daniel said services at the site could be moved to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, which could be in line for investment of £150m.
They were also told another £15m could be spent at Furness General Hospital, while it was allegedly said WGH could be ‘gifted’ to a ‘social enterprise’.
The Gazette’s campaign sought assurances that:
* GPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust would protect the future of Westmorland General Hospital (WGH).
* The site would not be transferred or ‘gifted’ to a third party and the site, services and staff would remain in the hands of the NHS
As the campaign began, 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.
* You can still add your support to the campaign by completing the coupon above