Patients in the Scarborough area are facing the frightening prospect of a future without an overnight A&E department in a series of money-saving suggestions.
A document drawn up by consultants KPMG, on behalf of primary care trust NHS North Yorkshire and York, contains a number of worrying possibilities, including the downgrading of maternity services, centralising emergency general surgery in York from Scarborough, and running Scarborough’s A&E department in “daylight hours” only.
Health bosses at both the primary care trust and York NHS Trust have emphasised that these discussions are at a very early stage, and no decisions have been made.
However, people in Scarborough have reacted with outrage and disbelief that ideas such as these could even be considered.
Simon Cox, Chief Operating Officer for NHS Scarborough and Ryedale Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “As many people will already know, the NHS in North Yorkshire and York is facing significant financial challenges and the Primary Care Trust (PCT) is predicting a year end deficit of £19 million.
“The PCT has found itself in this situation year after year and unless changes are made to reduce the annual cost of commissioning health services in the local area, the NHS will find itself in this situation time and time again.
“To try and prevent this from happening, the PCT has commissioned KPMG to undertake a review of current provision and recommend potential changes that could be made to reduce commissioning costs in the future.
“Over the last few weeks, they have been working with CCGs such as ours and other organisations to produce a ‘long list’ of potential actions that could be taken.
“This list is by no means an approved action plan. It is simply a list of potential actions that will be reviewed.”
Since the merger of Scarborough and York health trusts was announced in 2010, health bosses have reassured people in Scarborough that services are here to stay.
During a meeting at Scarborough Library in January this year, Mike Proctor - who was chief executive at Scarborough and is now deputy chief executive of the merged trust - said: “There was a fear that we’d send patients off down the A64, but that is not going to happen.
“York Hospital is already full, so it can’t happen and it won’t happen. We are continuing to provide and improve an accident and emergency service at the Scarborough site - and it will still be there when I’m long gone.”
But this week, Patrick Crowley, chief executive of York trust, said: “As a provider of health services we have been heavily involved in this process so far, and will continue to have an active input into these discussions.
“We remain committed to the principles underpinning the integration of York and Scarborough Hospitals, which are to develop safe, sustainable services where patients need them.
“There is a wider responsibility to the public in relation to reconfiguring services, and as and when any proposals are agreed that would result in a major change to services, they will be subject to formal public consultation and wider debate.”
A patients’ group spokesman has told The Scarborough News that local healthcare services are facing the most serious threat he has ever known.
Leo McGrory, chairman of the Scarborough and District Local Involvement Network (LINK), said he also feels “betrayed” by health bosses.
He said: “We were sold the merger on the belief that there would not be any reduction in services and that healthcare would improve.
“I actually feel betrayed and there is a sense that the Scarborough patient has been betrayed by the fact that they’re even contemplating this.”
Scarborough’s MP Robert Goodwill - who said changes to A&E would be made “over my dead body” - has already raised the issue with health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
He said: “It would be inconceivable not to have a full 24/7 A&E department at Scarborough Hospital.
“If we didn’t have that, people would die.”
Cllr David Jeffels, chairman of Scarborough Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, said: “These proposals beggar belief.
“Those who have made these proposals have just not thought out the massive implications and hardship for all residents in the whole of the Yorkshire coast and rural areas.”
He has put wheels in motion for a special meeting of the scrutiny committee to be held as a priority and has raised the issue at national level with the Local Government Association.
Cllr Jeffels added: “We must fight these absurd proposals. They are totally ill-conceived and fly totally in the face of common sense.”
• For more reaction and a petition form see today’s Scarborough News.