Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Are Labour playing party politics with hospital closures?

The London Times had a story the other day about how the Government's hospital closure programme (only 24 hours to save the NHS etc...) is targeting hospitals in Tory or Lib Dem held seats.

I'm not convinced that there is a conspiracy in the way The Times suggests, most Community Hospitals tend to be in rural areas which tend to have Tory or Lib Dem MPs.

The bigger issue for me is whether the policy of closing or cutting community hospitals, and reducing the services available at district hospitals, is actually what people want.

I am sure this policy makes sense to NHS management - it much be easier to manage a smaller number of large units and enable economies of scale in equipment etc.

I can understand that many doctors will argue that it is better clinically because it enable a higher level of specialisation in centres of excellence.

What the policy misses out on though is the voice of the public.

Because while the above arguments may be strong ones, it may also be the case that a large proportion of the public actual put a greater value on local access to health services.

Yes the John Radcliffe in Oxford may have better facilities in its Maternity wards for that small minority of mothers who have serious problems during labour. BUT the vast majority may prefer to give birth in a local maternity unit in Wallingford (where my younger two were born) or Wantage, in a small, friendly unit with staff they can get to know.

Yes the John Radcliffe might be needed for the major operation or to deal with a serious illness, but once the elderly patient is recovering from that treatment they may well want to be looked after in Abingdon where they live, and where their elderly friends can visit them without having to get two buses to the JR.

Or maybe the majority will disagree.

The point is that the voice of the patients and public should be heard in this debate. It should be up to local people in each area (Oxfordshire in my case) to decide what it is they value when it comes to health care.

Labour were elected to 'save the NHS'.

Nine years on we are facing the loss of local community hospitals, the loss of services at district general hospitals and, in Oxfordshire's case, hundreds of job losses.

It's a shame Labour don't seem to believe that the public should have a voice.

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