Emergency Halifax A&E closure is increasingly likely

A couple of weeks ago, Calderdale and Kirklees Councillors chided the press for alarmism in reporting news that our hospital Trust had developed plans for emergency overnight closure of Halifax A&E.

But at the time, the Trust wasn’t letting anyone – Councillors or press – see the plan.

Now, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the plan has been made public.

It says “it is increasingly likely” that circumstances will force the emergency closure of Halifax A&E.

This is not what Dr Steve Ollerton, Chair of Greater Huddersfield CCG Governing Body, told Councillors at the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee on October 23rd. He said:

“The plan is only in the drawer and we hope we never have to get it out,”

The plan says that the emergency closure of Halifax A&E is increasingly likely because of:

“ongoing problems recruiting and retaining Emergency Medicine Middle Grade staff at CHFT”.

If these staff shortages mean that one of the Trust’s A&E departments is deemed to be unsafe, the priority will be to keep the Huddersfield A&E open, because this is the recognised Trauma Unit, able to deal with serious injuries and illnessses.

The business continuity plan outlines the procedures that will apply if the need arises to urgently close Halifax A&E – whether overnight, or for a longer period.

Now the plan’s been made public, you can make up your own mind about how alarming it is.

Hospitals Trust secrecy is the handiwork of the New Labour government

Why didn’t the Trust present its plan to the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee in the first place? Why the secrecy? The answer is that this is the handiwork of the New Labour government, that set up NHS Foundation Trusts to be run as businesses (‘independent Public Benefit Corporations’).

Their boards are free to meet in secret, can choose not to publish their board papers and can take big decisions without reference to anyone except Monitor, the national healthcare market regulator.

This has put hospitals beyond the effective scrutiny of local MPs and Councillors, so the last people to hear about and be involved in changes to their hospitals are the people who use them – and pay for them. Us, the public.

Until the New Labour government set up NHS Foundation Trusts, hospital managers reported to the Secretary of State. In turn, the Secretary of State was accountable to Parliament, so MPs could ask questions about their local hospitals. But once NHS Foundation Trusts were set up, hospitals were no longer accountable to NHS management structures, or to the Secretary of State.

This is one big reason why we need the NHS Reinstatement Bill, to take the market out of the NHS and the NHS out of the market – including undoing legislation that created NHS Foundation Trusts

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