At a packed meeting on 1st July, Calderdale Council Adults Health and Scrutiny Panel accepted a petition signed by 118 people, asking the Scrutiny Panel to use its powers to call in the NHS bosses to explain their proposed hospital cuts and service changes.
The Council recently asked the hospitals Trust to withdraw their proposals to shake up health services by cutting acute and emergency hospital services and replacing them with care in the community. But the Trust has gone ahead regardless.
A leaked Trust document, discussed at a 5th June meeting of the Trust’s Executive Board, shows that the Trust is secretly planning to start making the cuts this month, even though the public consultation on the proposals hasn’t yet happened.
The leaked document shows 66 hospital beds are to be cut this financial year, starting in October. The cuts are needed because government has told the Trust to save £20m in 2014-15.
The Scrutiny Panel decided to set a date to call in the hospitals Trust Chief Executive, Owen Williams, to explain these secretly planned cuts. They also need sight of the document, which only came to light when it was leaked to the press.
The Scrutiny Panel also agreed to accept the petition, note it, but not to commit to acting on it without further thought.
This was on the advice of Merran McRae, the Council’s Chief Executive.
Chair says investigating hospital proposals goes to top of work plan list
The Chair, Cllr Malcolm James, said that investigating the hospital proposals goes to top of the work plan list, and as a single item, is most important. He added,
“We need to drill into subjects related to changes proposed by the hospitals Trust – we need to have this done in such a way that people are committed to what they say and know there will be repercussions.”
Cllr Faisal Shoukrat said the Scrutiny Panel needed effective training so members know the structure of NHS services in Calderdale. Otherwise they can’t carry out any effective scrutiny.
Cllr Hall said,
“We should ask Cabinet for funding to provide an external adviser to help us lay Scrutiny Panel members with professional, impartial advice about the Trust’s information.”
Cllr Draycott supported that.
Then Council Chief Executive Merran McRae stood up and said that they needed to be clearer about the relation between any immediate Scrutiny Panel inquiry into the Trust proposals, and the later mandatory review process that kicks in when the Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield commissioners put their new health service purchasing plans out for consultation.
At this stage, a Joint Kirklees and Calderdale Scrutiny Panel will review the commissioners’ plans. If they find them unacceptable, they can refer them to the Secretary of State.
Ms McRae added that she wants the Scrutiny Panel to wait for the commissioners to produce their plan and avoid doing the same review process as the joint Scrutiny Panel.
She said the Joint Scrutiny Panel would be the body that had professional advice.
The Chair said,
“Before that, we could well need some specific knowledge. We can take this up with Cabinet and ask for help.”
Merran McRae made a crack about needing some help with managing Council finances and suggested her budget might not bear the cost of paying for an external advisor, but she was happy to look at additional resources for the Scrutiny Panel and suggested they use Council Officers such as Paul Butcher, the Public Health Officer, and others.
Ms McRae said,
“The formal joint scrutiny is the one we really need to get right.”
Cllr Hall said,
“We need to not lose sight of the fact that we represent people in Calderdale, and not get subsumed into a remote review in Kirklees.”
The Senior Scrutiny Officer Mike Lodge advised that the Scrutiny Panel should respond formally to the Petition. He echoed Merran McRae and said the Scrutiny Panel needs to think about the relationship between the People’s Commission, the Scrutiny Panel inquiry into the Strategic Outline Case and related Trust activities, and the joint Scrutiny Panel with Kirklees into the commissioners’ reconfiguration plan.
Merran McRae said the Scrutiny Panel needed to discuss the petition’s demands. She explained again how the hospitals Trust can’t decide to change services and the reconfiguration plan will come through the Clinical Commissioning Groups.
She said there was a need to not pre-empt anything for the joint Scrutiny Panel.
But she said there is nothing to stop the Scrutiny Panel asking the NHS providers to come in now.
Barry Collins, the Cabinet Chair, said
“It’s important to be clear that there’s nothing for this Scrutiny Panel to hold an inquiry into. As for a request to Cabinet, I’m absolutely sure that there are resources available for every stage of the process.”
Cllr Draycott said the Scrutiny Panel needed to look at:
“consultation/engagement issues, the hospitals Trust secret cuts report, the whole shebang, how the whole process is processing.”
The Chair said the Scrutiny Panel would move forward in an appropriate manner, asking some questions that would be investigated in the Scrutiny Panel, and some in the Joint Scrutiny Panel.
Cllr Anne Collins echoed Merran McRae:
“We need to be careful with the petition because if we go to the Secretary of State we could find we had not followed the correct process. I’m concerned we don’t accept the wording of the Petition without checking out the legal situation and that it won’t undermine due process.”
The SP agreed to accept the petition, note it, but not to commit to acting on it without further thought.
Cllr Hall asked for the Petitioners to be kept informed of how the Scrutiny Panel will deal with the Petition items.
The Senior Scrutiny Officer will summarise all the proposals for the Scrutiny Panel work plan into a chart of the work plan. This can be amended meeting by meeting, so isn’t set in stone.
“Something of a small success”
Campaigners said they counted the outcome of the meeting as
“something of a small success.”
They welcomed the Scrutiny Panel’s decision to get someone in to help them to scrutinise the hospitals Trust’s secret cuts and other issues relating to the Strategic Outline Case, including the recent public and staff “engagement” process. They were glad that the Scrutiny Panel is prepared to keep the Petitioners informed about how the Scrutiny Panel deals with the actions the Petition asks for. These are to:
- Hold a formal inquiry into Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS providers’ proposals to close/downgrade one or both A&E departments in Halifax and Huddersfield, and the associated NHS and social care reconfiguration proposals (“Right Care Right Time Right Place”)
- Call in all 5 local NHS organisations to explain their proposals, their evidence base and how public, community groups’ and staff views have been sought, documented and used
- Invite the public to take part and state their views
Petitioners now await the Scrutiny Panel’s formal response.
Calder Valley Labour Parliamentary Candidate Josh Fenton Glynn also attended the meeting. He said,
“I have come to this meeting to make clear the views of many in the community; that the council should be front and centre of the campaign on the most important issue in Calder Valley, to fight to save our NHS services. The council have been admirable in their commitment to fighting for our NHS services thus far.”