THE CONSULTATION on plans to downgrade the Alexandra Hospital will not take place before the next General Election it has been confirmed.
The Standard first revealed in August public consultation may have to be postponed until after next May’s national vote after health chiefs failed to get the go-ahead to put the plans to the public in September.
At the time a spokeswoman for the review insisted it would still take place before voters went to the polls.
But as the Standard reported last week, the proposed business case supporting the changes failed seven of eight key NHS England checks. Concerns included the weak clinical evidence supporting the plan which includes centralising consultant-led births, inpatient paediatrics and some A&E services into Worcester.
West Midlands Clinical Senate has been asked to review the proposals and is due to start work this month.
However the review will not be complete until December meaning any consultation could not be carried out until next Spring, which would interfere with the purdah convention stating major policy changes should not be made immediately before an election.
It means the plans are likely not to be put before the public until next June at the earliest.
Jo Newton, independent chair of the programme board overseeing the reconfiguration process, said the delay was regrettable but would give more opportunity to work on engaging with the public and on the transport implications.
“We remain fully committed to delivering the proposed clinical changes because we believe they are necessary to secure the best outcomes for patients across Worcestershire. Our immediate focus now will be on ensuring the safety and sustainability of current acute hospital services, particularly in paediatrics, obstetrics and emergency surgery in this interim period.”
Neal Stote, chairman of the Save The Alex campaign, told the Standard: “The delay, whilst unfortunate, is welcome. It shows the process following a devastating review from NHS England still isn’t ready to move forward and it gives the chance for not only the West Midlands Clinical Senate to give it a detailed review, but also the wider NHS to look at all the options and make sure this is definitely the best way forward, not only for the Alexandra Hospital but also the wider health economy.
“It is disappointing for the staff more than anybody else.”
Redditch MP Karen Lumley added: “It is very disappointing that this process has been going on now for nearly three years without a conclusion. I do however believe that the people of Redditch have once again stood together to fight for their hospital as we have done so many times before.
“Three years ago we were presented with some unpalatable solutions for Redditch and since then we have moved a very long way. I think the Alex has an exciting future and whilst I would have wanted this settled as soon as possible for the staff and patients, any changes have to be right for the residents of Redditch.We still have and will continue to have a brilliant A&E at the Alex. We are also looking at a brand new centralised facility for orthopaedic surgery to be based in Redditch as well as an award winning urology department.
“I want though to pay tribute to all of the staff at the Alex for their hard work and dedication to their patients through these very difficult times. They have been brilliant.”
Rebecca Blake, Labour Parliamentary spokeswoman for Redditch, added: “The delay is a victory for local people and the Save The Alex campaign. In the short term I will be keeping the pressure on to ensure safety, especially in paediatrics and maternity, and going towards the general election I will be working hard to protect and improve services at the Alex.
“I’m confident that should we have a Labour Government at the next general election, we will get a better deal from the NHS in Redditch.
“From speaking to staff at the Alex, I know it’s difficult for them when they do not know whether they are coming or going. I hope this provides some reassurance for the next six months at least.”