Halifax MP attacks A&E closure in Commons debate

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Linda Riordan, Labour MP for Halifax, has addressed the House of Commons today in a debate on the future of our local A&E. Here is a full transcript of her speech:

I am delighted to be holding this adjournment debate on health services in Halifax; there will be a particular focus on the A & E closure proposal which is the most important issue that has faced Halifax since the banking crisis of 2008.

8th April 2010. 'Linda Riordan MP for Halifax.

8th April 2010. 'Linda Riordan MP for Halifax.

The axe hanging over the Calderdale Royal has been handled in the most underhand way. People have been left in the dark over the future of the services they need the most and value the most. That is simply not acceptable.

I hope today’s debate can shed some light on exactly what is taking place. I also want to place on the record the excellent health staff we have in Halifax; the nurses, doctors, consultants, clinicians and everyone in the NHS wider health family do a superb job in difficult circumstances. That is why, as healthwatch Calderdale have found, that the clinical treatment administered by GPs in the district is very good and they make a positive contribution to residents’ health in the area.

It is however, the issues of the A & E’s future which has caused most worry and concern in the town. The Government, the Clinical Commissioning Group, and the Trust’s approach to this whole debate has been lacking in openness and transparency. These are the three key areas I would like to focus on during the course of the next 20 minutes. The funding of health services in Halifax, the so called consultation and engagement process and the future of the A & E itself.

These three factors tie the whole debate together. I hope that today, at least, the Government can provide me and my constituents with some answers on these three important areas.

Background

Please allow me, if I may Mr Speaker, to briefly set out the background to this issue. The Calderdale Royal Hospital was opened in 2000 thanks to investment from the then Labour Government. It was a new modern hospital to serve communities across Halifax and Calderdale.

There were concerns at the time that the new Hospital might not have enough capacity. It did, but that’s rather ironic when we look at the arguments and debate today about justifying the closure of the A & E in Halifax. Any problems back then have been overcome, and the Hospital has proved to be a real success story.

The Hospital serves communities across Calderdale, going right across to the Lancashire border to the West. Indeed it is estimated that the hospital takes in a catchment area of nearly 200,000 people, some as many as 30 miles away. We are not talking about a small rural hospital, but a major health centre in the heart of an urban area.

Why does all this matter? Simply because it underlines the importance of the hospital services, including the A & E, to thousands and thousands of my constituents. The reality is that the hospital is at the heart of local health services and local health needs. This is a reason to invest in health services in Halifax, not cut them; to keep wards open, not close them; to protect the A & E, not put it on a life support machine, with its future clouded in doubt and Ministers and the CCG playing for time to deal with the issue post the General Election in 2015;

Questions are dodged not discussed. Information is wrapped in secrecy and the people of Halifax and Calderdale are, it would appear, treated with contempt on this issue. This is their hospital. These are their health services. They deserve some answers.

That is the brief history. Where are things at today? Well, frankly, it is all a bit of a mess. And at its heart are the inherent contradictions in the Government’s approach to health policy, across the country generally and Halifax specifically. Let’s take a look at some of these. The Government says funding of hospitals isn’t a problem. Why, therefore, is there a funding shortfall in Halifax of potentially £50 million. I noticed this week that Monitor is to investigate the Trust to understand why its finances have deteriorated so much. This is an extraordinary amount of money to be in deficit by.

We all know that the Government’s desire to cut A & Es, like the one in Halifax, is to save money. It is nothing to do with improving patient care. If that was the case then the A & E in Halifax and Calderdale would remain open. I haven’t seen or heard anything yet that makes a good clinical case for closing or watering down the service in Halifax, nor do I expect to hear one in the coming months. Quite simply there isn’t one.

I know the Minister will get up in a moment and tell me that Halifax has not suffered health cutbacks in the last four years. Well I can tell him/her that I use Halifax hospital regularly. Recently, there have been staffing cuts, ward closures and less and less beds available on the wards. Sadly, I fear that Halifax is suffering cuts, cuts and more cuts. If there isn’t a funding problem why are these cuts taking place? It isn’t through lack of demand for services.

If there is a funding problem why does the Government claim to have protected health spending? Both cannot be correct. I say today that what Health Ministers are being told in Whitehall offices and what is happening on the ground in places like Halifax are miles apart. Ministers urgently need a reality check if they think closing Halifax’s A & E unit wont put lives at risk.

I would be grateful if the Minister can explain to me the reality of the funding situation in Halifax? What have the CCG been required to do? What frontline services will be a cut as a result of this financial blackhole? My constituents want some answers today; they don’t want fobbing off until next May. This issue is too important to be kicked into the post general election long grass.

The issue has never gone away in the town, despite the best efforts of the powers that be. Now, more than ever, is the time to set out why the A & E is important and needed in Halifax and Calderdale. I am not here today to discuss Huddersfield Hospital or play the two off against each other. For the record I want both to stay open, serving their communities as they have done for many years. Both cater for diverse and distant communities.

To outlying communities, the local A & E is quite literally their lifeline, their reassuring presence should tragedy strike. And in that sense I have to say that the issue of engagement, consultation and information over Halifax A & E has been handled pretty woefully.

There has been buck passing, misinformation and a lack of honesty and clarity. Neither the CCG, the Trust or the Government has stood up and accepted any responsibility for what has taken place. Just because things have gone a bit quiet, doesn’t mean this isn’t the biggest issue in town. It is difficult to know where to start. Firstly, there is the closure by stealth that seems to be taking place.

I have here articles from the local Halifax Courier newspaper reporting regularly how people are being driven across to Huddersfield for treatment. I could talk about the staff cuts or the stealth cuts that could easily end up rendering the A & E a glorified walk in centre. It is just not good enough and people across Halifax are right to be angry and dismayed. If the plan is to close the A & E why don’t the decision makers say that? Let’s stop this nonsense that an A & E will stay in some form or another. That is rubbish. If the existing 24 hour access, with full A & E services are axed, then it won’t be an A & E. It is as simple as that. It’s time to stop the spin and give us some substance.

The Government and the CCG know they can’t do this though. They know there will be a public backlash; they have read the newspapers, seen the rallies, heard the debates, studied the letters. There is no one, not one person, in my constituency saying this is a good idea. If there is I have yet to come across them. This is closure by stealth, by secrecy and by drawing out the whole sorry process for a period of months. Well I can tell the Minister that I, and thousands of other people, are not going to walk on by and let this happen.

The facts on this issue speak for themselves: A hospital that only opened in 2000. An A & E unit that treats thousands of people every year. A hospital that serves people from a 30 mile plus radius. We are already reading about a winter crisis in accident and emergency units. So what is the Government’s answer? To close down A & E units! Quite simply, you don’t deal with one crisis by causing another one.

The way to deal with the A & E issue is to invest in the service, reassure people about its future and don’t put lives at risk. And, may I say this, not to the minister personally, but to the people making these decisions: Don’t take people for fools. I read about the Conservative MP in the Calder Valley saying whatever happens there will be an A & E. Well, I have news for him. If you strip away A & E services, stop 24 hour care, create an appointment system and move services to Huddersfield then you don’t have an A & E service - you have a glorified walk in centre or an extended GP’S surgery. So could the Minister outline today what the case actually is for closing Calderdale A & E. I have not heard one decent argument so far, so I would be grateful if they could put the Government’s position on the record.

So what do I propose now? Well, there is now a window of opportunity. The Hands off Our A & E campaign has worked so far. We have delayed the closure, put the issue at the front of the debate and ensured the whole issue is kept at the top of the agenda. However, there is a lot more to do. The issue may have gone quiet, but it has not gone away. I have to say the so called engagement process over the summer months was pathetic. A few afternoon meetings to hear people’s opinions is really not good enough. I expect better and more importantly my constituents expect better.

Three key things need to happen. Firstly, there needs to be proper engagement. What are the plans? What is the impact likely to be? So far, we have had none of these, which has left people in the dark. Secondly, there needs to be proper consultation. Not one way, but proper two-way consultation that actually listens to people and takes notice of their views, this needs to be done properly, not in a half-baked away that has happened so far. Thirdly, there needs to be a full re-assessment of the hospital services offered in Halifax. It is beginning to get treated as a branch hospital, not one at the heart of health services.

People need to be told straight what is taking place. The lack of information over the last few weeks and months has nearly been as worse as the decision to axe the A & E in the first place. And don’t let’s pretend that an A & E will exist in some form or other post 2015. There is either an A & E or there isn’t one. The time has come for the Government to come clean on its plans. Set them out, let’s have a proper consultation and a proper debate. Although this time, the people of Halifax need listening to. The time has come to say ‘enough is enough’. The facts are clear that lives will be put at risk without an A & E in Halifax. These unnecessary cuts to frontline services will a body blow to all ages and all sections of the local community. That’s why people have been taking to the streets to protest at these proposals. That’s why across the whole spectrum of community opinion, there has been a united voice of ‘save our A & E’. I hope the minister can today shed some light on what exactly is going on.

The people of my constituency, who need and deserve the best possible health services in Halifax, expect nothing less. It’s time to come clean and spell things out. In the run up to the General Election people should be expected to know what is going to happen to their local A & E unit. The sound of silence is only causing troubled waters. I say today, loud and clear, that the fight to save the A & E goes on and deserves to be a successful one.