Hewitt to Address NHS Plan Fears

The health secretary is to try to allay fears over the future of major hospitals in a speech. Patricia Hewitt will say the district general hospital model, providing a wide range of care under one roof, may not be right for the 21st Century. But she will say the redesigned NHS – with emergency care centralised in fewer hospitals – will still retain the values of the old health service.

It comes amid growing unease about the potential closure of hospitals.

Government policy includes shifting care away from hospitals into community settings and placing greater emphasis on the private sector.

Doctors’ leaders have warned that if services such as A&E, cardiac care and paediatrics are taken away from hospitals, the remaining services such as planned surgery and intermediate care could be eventually whittled away.

Reviews are taking place across England and the new NHS chief executive David Nicholson said, in his first interview last week, as many as 60 changes – dubbed “reconfigurations” – could end up being carried out.

Ms Hewitt will tell an audience in London that if the public want care to improve and waiting lists to carry on falling they will have accept that the structure of the NHS will change.

This could mean patients may have to travel further for emergency care, but once they get there it will be better and more expert than they would get at their traditional hospital, she will say.

But she will attempt to reassure critics that the “values of the NHS will never change” as it will always be free at the point of need.

Doctors have expressed mixed views to news of future changes.

The British Medical Association has said it accepts that advances in technology mean the most up-to-date care can only be provided in fewer hospitals.

However, chairman James Johnson has warned that taking services away from some risks making them vulnerable to closure in the future.

And Dr Barry Monk, a Bedfordshire doctor who is threatening to stand for parliament over potential cuts to services, said: “Doctors have had enough of this meddling. I would urge others to follow my lead and oppose the changes.”

His decision comes after Dr Richard Taylor was elected to parliament in 2001 after standing on the ticket of opposing cuts at Kidderminster Hospital.

And hundreds of staff are due to take part in the first national strike in 18 years on Thursday in protest at the sell-off of NHS logistics to the German firm DHL.