CAMPAIGNERS have reacted furiously after a leaked document revealed hospital chiefs tried to bypass public consultation before closing a community hospital.
A report by the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre NHS Foundation Trust shows bosses sought legal advice as to whether they could close Wesham Hospital over “pure financial considerations” rather than clinical evidence.
Now Fylde MP Mark Menzies has called for an immediate investigation into the actions of hospital bosses.
Lawyers advised the trust, who closed the rehabilitation unit in January, to let the hospital become “run down” while holding a reduced-length consultation.
Sheila Bennett, a partner at Hempsons solicitors, said this would avoid judicial action which could be levelled at the trust if there was no consultation, while ensuring the hospital would have to shut down.
She wrote: “You asked for confirmation of the legal position if the Trust were to implement (measures) without undertaking public consultation.
“Pure financial considerations (as mentioned in your email) to justify the proposed service (closure) are not enough.”
Ms Bennett then claimed “running down” facilities has ensured the smooth closure of hospitals including Fairwood in Swansea, University Hospital in Hartlepool, and Westbury Hospital in Wiltshire.
She adds: “The fact, however, a consultation exercise was taking place gave a proper platform for all arguments...with the result in two out of the three cases the NHS Trust secured the desired outcome (closure) and avoided judicial challenge.”
In early January, the trust told Fylde councillors the move was an “interim transfer” of the services to another hospital, and the future of Wesham would be determined by full consultation later this year. They still plan to continue with the consultation in May but campaigners say they fear it will have little weight.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “In light of this information, people will feel a consultation would be pointless and believe the decision to close the facility has already been made.
“This is why staff and others felt a consultation should have taken place long before the move – so a clear and open debate could take place.
“I will be writing to the Department of Health to ask them to investigate this matter urgently.
“There is, of course, a wider national issue here regarding the ‘running down’ of hospitals, as suggested in the legal advice, which is very concerning.”
Today, opponents to the closure described the move as “deplorable”.
County Coun Liz Oades added: “It really confirms what I thought about the closure, that it was on financial grounds rather than on what was good for the patients and I find this deplorable.
“I will be passing the relevant information on to the county council’s health overview and scrutiny committee and asking them to forward it to the secretary of state.”
But the hospital claim the document, released following a Freedom of Information request by the Health Service Journal, is available on their website, and the transfer of services from the 40-bed rehabilitation unit to Clifton Hospital was based on clinical need.
Fabian Craig-Wilson, of Riley Avenue, St Annes, whose husband, John, had to be transferred from Wesham to Clifton hospital in Fairhaven, said: “It is wrong to even think about not consulting with the public.
“Many elderly people have been worse off since they had to move.
“It is a facility for local people, and they should have a say in whether it stays, and it should be based on what’s best for patients, not cost.”
Hospital bosses today declined to show The Gazette the email they sent asking for legal advice but denied they had acted improperly.
Chief executive Aidan Kehoe said: “The decision regarding the interim transfer of services from Wesham Hospital to Clifton Hospital was taken with the full intention of undertaking a joint public consultation with our health community partners.
“The legal advice was taken following the decision to transfer services from Wesham Hospital to Clifton Hospital as an interim measure.
“The trust always seeks advice on major decisions temporary or otherwise to ensure it is acting legally and the organisation is not exposed to unacceptable risk.
“We would stress the changes that we have made have not resulted in any reduction in service whatsoever.”