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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 12:57 GMT
NHS changes 'about saving money'
The government has launched a charm offensive to convince critics that hospital reconfigurations are not just about cutting costs.

But many remain unconvinced.

NHS rally
Protesters believe changes are being motivated by cash shortages

Huntingdon, Worthing, Epsom and Redditch are hardly known for their militancy.

But like many other towns across the country, they have seen demonstrations on a previously unheralded scale.

The protesters, who include residents, NHS staff and MPs, are united in their concerns over their local health services.

Claiming that closing local A&E departments, trauma units and intensive care facilities will improve services turns all logic on its head
Geoff Martin, of Health Emergency

They fear the proposed cuts to A&E departments and other key hospital services which are being put forward by local health chiefs are being driven by money.

The NHS racked up a deficit of over 500m last year and is predicting another one this year.

The financial advantage in closing A&E, maternity or trauma departments is obvious.

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: "The climate of debt in the NHS puts the development of new policy under suspicion.

"We are extremely concerned that these policies may be being driven by deficits, not what is best for patient care.

"The key to developing new policy in the NHS must be asking the experts - the staff who work in it - and the announcements have been made without any prior consultation.

"If we move towards more specialist units we still need to ensure that patients have access to really good local A&E departments.

Expertise

"The strength of building specialist units and advancing specialist medical knowledge should be in sharing that expertise and cascading it down.

"However, in reality, the new markets, commercial confidentiality and competition being fostered by the government in the NHS create obstacles to hospitals working together."

And Geoff Martin, of the Health Emergency campaign group which has been helping to support local campaigns, believes patients could be put under threat if the proposals being put forward are pushed through.

"Claiming that closing local A&E departments, trauma units and intensive care facilities will improve services turns all logic on its head.

"People are fighting these closures in their tens of thousands up and down the country because they know that closing local services and increasing journey times puts lives at risk."

The government has argued it is all part of the evolution the NHS has been undergoing in recent years with more care being provided in the community.

Eighteen months ago at the time of the last election I did not hear the government arguing for A&E and maternity services closing down
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary
But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said if this was the case they should have been making the case months ago.

"Eighteen months ago at the time of the last election I did not hear the government arguing for A&E and maternity services closing down.

"This has happened because the government has plunged the health service in deep financial deficit."

And Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Specialised centres will only benefit the UK's heart patients if there are enough of them to support those in need, which will mean significant investment.

"Until then we need to make sure those people who can't access specialised centres aren't left at risk, which will only be achieved through investing in emergency care within local communities."

Critics have also said that if the government was truly motivated by moving care into the community they would wait until the services - such as specialist GP clinics and home chemotherapy were in place.

Ministers have promised 750m over the next five years to fund such projects but the projects are still in their infancy.

Jonathan Fielden, of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, said: "All too often change is driven by politics or the need to balance the books rather than what is in the best interests of patients."




SEE ALSO
Reforms to improve NHS, says PM
05 Dec 06 |  Health
Setting out the case for change
05 Dec 06 |  Health
A&E closure decision criticised
17 Nov 06 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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