NHS chiefs approve controversial A&E shake-up in Halifax and Huddersfield

Protesters outside Cedar Court Hotel where the meeting was held this afternoon.

Protesters outside Cedar Court Hotel where the meeting was held this afternoon.

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A CONTROVERSIAL shake-up of hospital services in Halifax and Huddersfield was approved today as NHS bosses came to a decision after months of deliberations.

Following a 14-week public consultation, health chiefs voted to centralise emergency care in Halifax and downgrade Huddersfield’s A&E to an urgent care centre, treating minor ailments.

Under proposals by Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which control the NHS budget for those areas, Calderdale Royal Hospital would be expanded by up to 300 beds.

But Huddersfield’s existing 400-bed infirmary would be replaced with a smaller 120 hospital nearby, where more planned NHS procedures would be carried out.

Both CCGs met at the Cedar Court, Ainley Top, Huddersfield, this afternoon.

The proposals, designed to tackle a £280m funding gap, have sparked safety fears over longer journey times to hospital and a campaign to keep both A&E departments open.

Protestors have also claimed the shake-up is driven by the need to cut budgets.

Financial pressures include costly repayments for Calderdale Royal Hospital, which is leased back from the private sector under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme.

But the plan would itself require more than £490m if it is to succeed. Members of the opposing Hands Off HRI campaign group travelled to the capital on October 10 to hand over a petition of around 80,000 signatures to officials at both Downing Street and the Department of Health.

Helen Kingston, a member of the group’s steering committee who lives in Rishworth, said: “The community has put up enough of a fight for them to not just breeze [the plans] through. They are hoping it will work on a wing and a prayer.”

Calderdale Royal Hospital

Calderdale Royal Hospital

NHS watchdog Healthwatch Kirklees carried out a survey during the consultation. One diabetes patient said: “Time would be very important. Ambulance staff can only do so much. Would an urgent care centre be able to deal with me if I was going into a coma or would they have to get me to Halifax? It’s too far and I might not make it.”

And the Kirklees Medical Committee, which represents 38 GP practices in Huddersfield alone, said it is “deeply sceptical” about the plan on the grounds of cost and safety. “We also feel that the proposals are very poorly thought out and leave many more questions than answers.”

But the CCGs say it is safer to take emergencies to a single A&E with consultants on duty 24 hours a day and quicker access to X-rays and scans.

A spokesperson for NHS Greater Huddersfield CCG said: “We are aware of the concerns of Kirklees LMC and Hands Off HRI Committee, and these, along with all other consultation feedback, are reflected in the report presented to the governing bodies for their meeting on 20 October.”

Following the public consultation, both CCGs entered a “post consultation deliberation phase” to consider the feedback. If the plans are agreed, the details will be fleshed out with health experts over the next few months.