Around 90 people gathered for a public meeting on Saturday called by Save Our NHS Leicestershire (SONHSL) to discuss controversial local plans to remove intensive care beds from Leicester General Hospital without a consultation.
Campaigners believe that the removal of the beds will be the first step toward downgrading the General Hospital as an acute hospital. Local NHS bosses deny this, even though their Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) clearly lays out the “need” to move from three to two acute hospitals in Leicester in the near future.
Leicester South MP and Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth was the first to speak, followed by local NHS campaigner Dr Sally Ruane. The meeting was chaired by SONHSL co-chair Steve Score.
But the bulk of the meeting was given over to audience contributions. As with the speakers, those in attendance were united in calling for a full public consultation. The background to this defiant mood is the cuts made in the NHS over many years. The Trust claims its proposals are not to do with cuts in services, but if that is the case they need to prove it in a full discussion with the public in a clear and transparent consultation.
Consultations allow hospital trusts to present their arguments to the public, and the public (including patients with direct experience of service delivery) to make their voices heard when it comes to the future of public services. It is our democratic right to have a say in the future of our services!
Consultations could also be used to put the Tories’ disgraceful attacks on the NHS on full view before the public. Instead, the Trust hides behind the rhetoric of “efficiency savings”, thereby providing cover for the government’s assault. Little wonder that campaigners are distrustful of their plans.
Slowly but surely, however, our campaign is succeeding in forcing their plans out from behind closed doors, and as the public learns more about what they are doing, opinion is quickly turning against the NHS bosses.
At a meeting of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Health Overview Scrutiny Committee (which includes Labour, Lib Dem and Tory councillors) last Friday, a vote was held that narrowly – by 7 to 6 – recommended that the NHS Trust carry out a public consultation.
Although the Committee’s decision carries no legal weight, it represents an early victory for our campaign, which has been lobbying city and county councillors to support a consultation, and it will certainly make any future attempt to side-step democratic scrutiny more difficult.