An influential group of Scarborough business leaders has spoken out over any possible cutbacks to services at Scarborough Hospital.
Scarborough Business Ambassadors have sent a letter to the local health trust, outlining their concerns.
Last week the town was rife with rumour and concern, after York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Clinical Commissioning Groups for Scarborough and Ryedale and for East Riding of Yorkshire announced they were undertaking a review of acute services at the hospital.
The Trust gave an assurance that there were no firm proposals, and that there would be no loss of an A&E department and associated specialties. Chief executive Mike Proctor said: "No-one wants to downgrade Scarborough Hospital, we want to provide services that are good, safe, sustainable and deliverable."
But many in the health sector fear services will be stripped, and an online petition has collected thousands of names.
In a letter to the Trust chairperson, Susan Symington, on behalf of the Business Ambassadors, chairman Peter Wilkinson says of two meetings at the Royal Hotel last week: "Several of our members attended the meeting, after being advised of the proposed consultations by a third party. We have to say that the communication of these reviews was quite lacking, with our MP and other local politicians being seemingly kept in the dark. The impressive turnout at these meetings is testimony to the strength of local feelings on the subject, which shows a desire to swiftly mobilise on the issue, despite any obstacles, which may be in their way."
Mr Wilkinson asks why the Trust has not accepted the Ambassadors' offer of help with recruitment, which is a problem for Scarborough. "We acknowledge that there is a national recruitment issue within the NHS. We further acknowledge that the vacancies in Scarborough Hospital are more than in York. We do however contend that York itself is suffering from similar problems.
"Can you please advise therefore why this excuse is being used solely to commence a review, presumably in advance of an attack on services in Scarborough Hospital?"
He adds: "Our concern with the removal, reduction or relocation of services is in part due to the large distance to travel between our respective institutions. At worst this will lead to the unnecessary loss of life, extended travel times for patients in sometimes extreme pain, and significant inconvenience for patients and their families, with the added “travel tax” that this would impose on a population with one of the lowest thresholds of car ownership in England and with wages currently well below the national average.
"The remoteness of our situation, allied to the reasonably sizeable population must mean that Scarborough, as the second most remote hospital of its type in the country to serve such a population, must be considered as a special case when compared to cities like Manchester, with 30 hospitals within a similar 25 mile radius to Scarborough, which only has one, plus a few more minor though important facilities."
The letter adds: "We acknowledge the comments of chief executive Mike Proctor that, “we may need national help in delivering the types of service we need to preserve in Scarborough”. In our view we are insistent that this “type of service” remains no less than is currently offered by York NHS Trust in Scarborough. We are available to assist in the preservation and improvement of such services and insist that they remain located here."
Mr Wilkinson states that the obstetrics staff in attendance at the meetings "were adamant that the relocation of some obstetrics services would. 'lead to the loss of babies' lives'. We do not take their comments lightly.
"Similar comments were made regarding the potential closure or dilution of A&E services, with the McKinsey consultant attending the evening session not ruling out such a dilution. We need to be clear that these issues are absolute red lines for our organisation, politicians and townspeople."
The letter goes on: "We would like you to confirm that the services provided by Scarborough Hospital will not be reduced in any way. We would like your commitment and the commitment of your Board to the continued full provision of these services in Scarborough.
"We cannot stand back and watch the denigration of our services. It is our intention to support our Borough residents and all the users of Scarborough Hospital with the substantial support and means that we have at our disposal."
You can read the full text of the letter here.