Health service chiefs in West Norfolk have given a cautious welcome to a call by the new boss of the NHS for more care to be delivered locally.
The remarks by the new chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, have been widely seen as a dramatic change of policy away from the centralisation of services.
But officials from the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (WNCCG), the body that decides how health service funding is used in the borough, have called for more details about how such a policy would be implemented.
The group’s chairman, Dr Ian Mack, said yesterday: “I am very interested in the new Chief Executive of NHS England’s view of the role of smaller district general hospitals, as the direction of travel of the NHS over a number of years has been to centralise hospital services.
“It is a very important issue to those of us who work in rural areas.
“However, it is very early days in his role as the chief executive and I will be looking forward over the next few months to him providing further details of his plans and how the health budget will be deployed to support smaller hospitals going forward.”
Concerns have grown over the future of health services in West Norfolk, particularly at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), over recent months because of the fear that more and more services may be concentrated in regional centres.
Senior QEH managers have previously insisted that, while the vast majority of care would still be delivered from Lynn in the future, they expected a minority of services would be transferred elsewhere.
But, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, published on Thursday, Mr Stevens warned that British hospitals were now among the worst in western Europe for treating local patients, because of the number of services which had been centralised.
He said that more care should be delivered locally in order to preserve “dignity and compassion” for patients and argued that the NHS should learn from the example of countries such as Sweden and the United States.
Meanwhile, in a separate move, a protest will be held at the hospital on Thursday in support of union leaders’ campaign against the government’s offer of a one per cent pay increase.
Unison officials say a pay freeze imposed on staff for the past three years has forced some of them to use Food Banks.
Mavis Horner, Unison steward at the QEH, said: “Our public services are under threat and we need to show support for our staff.
“The past three years have been difficult for everyone and penalising public services further will only result in eventual service collapse.
She added: “We are losing excellent staff because of perceived shortcomings in the services, but good public services require enough good people to do the work – fewer staff in many cases means less service to the public they serve”.
“As the Government cuts become even more substantial this will encourage privatisation and the eventual dissolution of the services into separate companies.”