Health services in West Norfolk could become unsustainable over the coming years without radical reforms, officials have claimed.
The stark warning was delivered during a public consultation programme on future care in the borough, which included a drop-in session at Lynn’s town hall on Friday.
Managers of the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the body responsible for funding health services, say action must be taken now in order to maintain affordable services in the future.
They say that the town’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which is already more than £10 million in the red, could have three times as big a debt within four years if nothing is done.
But campaigners fear change will lead to a gradual eroding of services at the Gayton Road site.
And Labour’s North West Norfolk election candidate, Jo Rust, has revealed she is planning to launch a campaign to save the QEH, whose future she fears will be put at risk by further reform.
She said: “My fear is that we will lose our services and once they’re gone it will be harder for the people who use them.
“We have already lost services. It’s a chipping away and people don’t realise until they want that service in our area that it’s no longer there.”
But documents displayed at the consultation claimed the sector as a whole needs to save £32 million over the same period.
They added: “If nothing were to change, local NHS services would very soon become clinically and financially unsustainable.”
A team of planners set up by health regulator Monitor is currently working with health professionals to establish how health services can be made affordable in the future.
Patients are being asked for their views on what officials are calling a “Case for Change”, which they say will be based on financial information, projected population growth, social challenges including an expected eight per cent annual rise in the numbers of elderly people, and the views of patients and practitioners.
But the CCG’s chief officer, Dr Sue Crossman, insisted the programme was not designed to reduce services.
She said: “Our aim is to ensure our local population has access to the services they need. That’s our starting point.”
She said she was encouraged by the public’s response so far, describing the number of people who do not normally attend CCG events but who had taken the chance to raise concerns as “heartwarming.”
She added: “There’s no point in us saying we’ll have everything if it’s not safe or not deliverable in the future.
“I think it should be reassuring to the public that we are going through a process of understanding how to ensure we can get the best services that are financially secure so that people can rely on them going forward.”
But Mrs Rust also said she planned to make a formal complaint over what she claimed was a lack of promotion of Friday’s event and criticised the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for directing people to its website for more detail about the current process.
She said that was “discriminatory” against people with no or limited internet access.
But the CCG says residents can obtain printed copies of the documents by phoning 01553 666900.
Two more consultation sessions will take place at the Fakenham Community Centre tomorrow, between 2 and 4.30pm and Downham town hall on Friday, between 11.30am and 2pm.
A report on the proposals will also be presented to the CCG’s board at its meeting on January 29.