Following an urgent meeting at 8.30am today, Tuesday the 9th October, at Watford General Hospital to discuss the planned closure of the Special Care Baby Unit, women?s ward and children?s wards at Hemel Hempstead Hospital, Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, issued the following statement.
“I left the meeting with four conclusions and six continuing concerns:
First, this decision confirms the case for a new, super hospital centrally placed between St Albans, Harpenden, Hemel and Watford. I shall be urging Ministers to re-open that option.
Second, it is essential that the re-location be treated as genuinely ?temporary? (as the Trust describes it) and not allowed to pre-empt the pending strategic review of hospital services in Hertfordshire.
Third, I have urged the Trust to release all relevant detailed information about the Hemel and Watford services affected so that the public can see if the case for temporary re-location stands up and evaluate options for the long term.
Fourth, I will also repeat my request to the Health Minister to publish a full analysis of the clinical benefits, if any, resulting from similar mergers elsewhere. We should not accept this remorseless programme of centralisation, mergers and closures unless and until we see concrete evidence of its claimed clinical benefits.
My six major concerns are:
1. I accept that safety of mothers and children must be paramount. But ultimately distance can undermine safety if it makes it harder for mothers to reach hospital in good time. This decision will hit mothers and children in Harpenden, Redbourn, Wheathampstead and Sandridge as well as St Albans ? especially if ? as seems likely ? maternity and related services also move from QEII to the Lister Hospital.
2. This decision is another body blow to Hemel Hempstead. It will undermine its viability as an A&E and acute hospital. We all remember that the merger of St Albans and Hemel?s maternity services paved the way for the merger of their A&E and acute units.
3. The announcement pre-empts the strategic review of hospital services in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and will be seen as making a mockery of the consultation when it occurs.
4. This is part of what seems to be a remorseless programme of centralisation of the NHS. I have long argued that we should only agree to further centralisation of hospitals and units if and when concrete evidence is provided that similar changes elsewhere have resulted in improved safety and clinical outcomes. Local management has refused to provide that evidence in respect of the Hemel/St Albans A&E merger. And nationally the Health Minister has refused to publish the evidence that the government?s programme of centralisation is improving health care.
5. If the basic problem is recruiting sufficient trained staff what will happen if that problem re-emerges in Watford? We are told that the NHS is getting more funding yet it seems unable to pay enough to recruit and retain sufficient staff. Where is the money, if it exists, going?
6. We were told that this problem has been apparent at Hemel for up to 18 months. Why then was it not discussed publicly earlier? Is it yet another bit of bad news withheld until after the election in an area with three marginal seats?