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NHS tensions escalate

Hewitt stands by reforms as NHS chief announces reviews of 60 hospitals

Secretary of state for health, Patricia Hewitt, has warned that the traditional model of NHS care will have to adapt to a changing world, amid mounting concerns that major hospitals will be forced to close.

She said that the government would press ahead with controversial reforms to ìsafeguardî the future of the NHS, and that the district general hospital model, which provides a wide range of care under one roof, was not right for the 21st Century.

Current government policy, which is focused on shifting care away from hospitals out into community settings, has been criticised for increasing private sector involvement.

ìThese are difficult times for staff in the NHS,î she told an audience in London. ìThere's a sense that many in the service no longer know where it's going. I believe the changes and the reforms we're making are not just consistent with the founding values of the NHS, they are the only way to safeguard those values for the future.î

New NHS chief executive, David Nicholson, has announced there will be about 60 reviews of hospitals, with emergency care to be centralised in fewer trusts. There are worries that the withdrawal of services such as A&E, cardiac care and paediatrics from hospitals, could spark a domino effect on remaining services.

The British Medical Association (BMA), representing doctors, said it was against any plans for mass hospital closures.

ìLarge hospitals have a wide range of specialist services to ensure patients with the most complex needs have access to the best possible care,î said BMA chairman, James Johnson. ìHowever it is becoming more difficult for smaller hospitals to provide a comparable range of comprehensive services. It therefore makes sense to review the range of services available in each hospital serving particular geographical areas.î

He added that there were ìreal fearsî that closing an A&E department would lead to other services being taken away, ìeventually leading to a complete hospital closure.î

ìThis must not be allowed to happen,î he said.

The NHS' biggest trade union, Unison, has questioned whether political considerations were the driving force behind the service reconfigurations and hospital closures.

Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said he had written to Labour Party chair, Hazel Blears, about claims in the press that health ministers and party officials had secretly met to discuss the political impact of hospital closures.

ìIf these claims are true, I am sure you would agree that such behaviour is irresponsible and unacceptable,î said Prentis. ìNarrow political interests should never be put before concerns for patient care.î

30th September 2008

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