Fears of patient desertion prompted u-turn on hospital review

By Ian Dipple Wednesday 07 November 2012 Updated: 08/11 17:18

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FEARS patients would turn their back on Worcestershire's hospitals to seek treatment outside of the county were partly behind the reason for a u-turn on plans to close the Alexandra Hospital.

The more extreme options proposed as part of the Joint Services Review were dropped last month (October) when it was revealed health bosses were now looking to provide as many services as possible at all three of the county's hospitals.

They could have seen the Alex reduced to just a minor injuries unit (MIU) and planned surgery or in another case it could have closed completely with just one main hospital in Worcester and an MIU provide in the borough, but not necessarily at the current Woodrow Drive site.

Both politicians and the Save the Alex campaign warned in those scenarios people in Redditch and Bromsgrove would travel to Birmingham for urgent care and maternity services, because of poor transport links to Worcester.

During a question and answer session with councillors, health bosses revealed it was a key factor in why they had ditched their original proposals, while others would have cost too much or were unsafe.

Concerns were also raised by other Trusts outside of Worcestershire they would not have the capacity to cope if patients left the county.

But Simon Hairsnape, chief officer for NHS Worcestershire, all but confirmed to the county council's Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday, A&E and maternity services at the Alex would not remain in their current form.

He said the reasons for the review in Worcestershire remained valid, and although talks were taking place with other providers outside of the county, they faced the same problems.

"The case for change stands because the issues WAHT is grappling with, apply to any organisation we may or may not be talking to as they are national issues. As commissioners we can't buy services an organisation is not willing to provide if it's not safe to provide them,” he said.

“The radical options took out most of the services on the Alex site. What we are playing out with WAHT and other providers is, what is the fullest range of services we are able to provide.

“What I'm not going to say is we are going to provide 70, 80 or 90 per cent of services currently at the Alex, but we are talking about the vast majority of services being retained in Worcestershire on that site."

He added: “People in Redditch and Bromsgrove have been quite clear about their wishes about local services, and it's about that balance between what can sustainably be provided locally and what can be provided centrally.

"What we did not want was significant outflows of patients outside of the county. Our intention is to keep services inside the county and if some of the more optimistic conversations come to fruition it will be a greater range of services within the county, not less."

Penny Venables, chief executive of WAHT, added there were different ways of providing emergency and urgent care other than the traditional A&E model.

"In other areas of Europe there's no such thing as an A&E department but they still have outstanding outcomes of care. If you go back ten or 15 years there were different models for how we dealt with diabetes and respiratory patients, so there are options and models we need to look at over the next few weeks to see how we can get the best provision across all three sites."

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