Health plan referral could have big impact on controversial proposals for Thurrock

TOUGH action by Southend councillors in defence of their local heath provision could impact on controversial plans for the closure of Orsett Hospital and proposals to build new integrated medical centres in the borough – though Thurrock’s leading councilor on health issues has dismissed potential delays as ‘not very significant.’

The council’s Southend’s People’s Scrutiny Committee has decided to refer the blueprint proposed by the Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership to reshape provision of services across the region to government health secretary Matt Hancock, asking him to set up a review by an independent panel.

As well as closing Orestt Hospital and creating new local centres, the plans involve moving the provision of some services – and it is that fear which is causing concern in Southend.

Independent councillor Martin Terry called the plans “harmful” to Southend residents and said they have been put forward to “save money” rather than improve patient outcomes.

That is a theme shared by independent councillors in Thurrock where Thurrock Independents deputy leader, Cllr Jack Duffin said: “We are the only party in Thurrock that has been campaigning for a new hospital in the borough with full A&E facilities. The medical centres are a welcome addition to Thurrock’s lacking medical services but they need to be alongside a full hospital.

“If the Tories want force 32,000 homes upon Thurrock, increasing the population of the borough by 100,000 people, then the Government must put forward plans for a new hospital to meet this demand. Residents need to ask why Thurrock’s Tories aren’t demanding a new hospital for Thurrock.

“Hopefully the government will now see that these proposals are not in the best interests off local residents and are just a purely money saving exercise. Unfortunately I fear referring Tory health plans to a Tory Health Minister will do little to change their cuts to Thurrock health services.”

John Kent, leader of Thurrock Labour, said: “It’s the right decision to have made. The decision to close Orsett Hospital should have had its own unique consultation process and not be buried as part of a consultation for changes in the wider area.

“I maintain the decision to close it is wrong. Thurrock’s Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee meets again next month and I would encourage them to make a similar decision.”

Cllr James Halden

However Thurrock Council cabinet member with responsibility for health, Cllr James Halden, said: “We are moving ahead with preparatory work for the proposed medical centres in line with existing plans and we continue to work with our NHS partners to deliver improved local services in Thurrock.

“Work has been going on for around 18 months, a few weeks delay is unhelpful but not very significant in the whole scheme of things. This position remains unchanged and Orsett Hospital will not be closing until the four integrated medical centres are up and running. No clinical services currently serving Thurrock residents will be moving out of Thurrock.”

The action in Southend has come as a blow to the chief transformation officer wanting to drive through the changes – many of which have met with derision and opposition from residents in Thurrock, whose views are reflected by Cllrs Kent and Duffin.

Indeed, in a consultation exercise, Thurrock residents who responded were massively against them.

Despite that, Tom Abell, deputy chief executive and chief transformation officer of the Basildon and Thurrock Hospital Trust, has ploughed on and his views were backed by a joing committee of regional clinical commissioning groups, though Thurrock’s group abstained when it came to a vote on closing Orsett Hospital.

Mr Abell said the decision Southend councillors made on 10 October will suspend the entire plan and hold back £118million in NHS funding.

“This stops all the changes planned by the joint clinical commission group and that decision covers the whole of mid and south Essex. It puts a stop to all of those changes until we have a result from the secretary of state,” he said.

“None of our proposals are about money, it is about better organised care so we can respond to bigger challenges in future and fill gaps in our workforce. It was never about cutting services or reducing services.”

Health Minister Mr Hancock could intervene himself, or set up an independent panel. If he opts to send it to the panel they will undertake a review of the process and decide whether to side with the council within 20 days. The outcome is likely to include a series of recommendations that the STP will have to follow and these could range from minor amendments to a complete re-draft of the plans.

Southend councillors have dismissed criticism of their decision from backers of the new blueprint who are concerned over the impact their decision will have on neighbouring boroughs. The Southend members say they have acted in the interest of Southend and its residents.

A spokesperson for Thurrock Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The decision by Southend Council will delay our ability to make crucial decisions around the next steps needed to begin building the new Integrated Medical Centres and start to make them a reality.

“We will of course continue with our on-going planning and preparation work so that final decisions can be made once a conclusion has been reached by the Secretary of State.”