THE PUBLIC consultation on changes to the Alexandra Hospital could be delayed until after the next general election.
Commissioners who are reviewing hospital services across the county have been told plans to downgrade A&E, maternity and paediatrics at the town’s hospital need to be approved by senior clinicians on the West Midlands Clinical Senate.
Commissioners want to begin the 12-week consultation at the end of October to ensure the project is completed before next March when purdah begins – the politically-sensitive time before elections take place.
But that timetable is now in serious doubt as even if the senate is able to meet in the near future, the process still needs to be signed off by NHS England and it is unclear how long that will take.
And despite a spokeswoman for the review insisting consultation would begin before the general election she said it was not known when the senate would meet.
NHS England has already refused to allow the proposals to be put to the public once because of concerns about the business case supporting the planned changes, which derailed plans to start consultation in September.
Neal Stote, leader of the Save the Alex campaign, said the postponement was frustrating but allowed time to look at all of the options.
He added he wanted chiefs to focus on option two – the Birmingham option – which council leaders in the borough and surrounding areas, as well as MPs, called for earlier this month.
He said: “It is now clear that NHS England has deep concerns that can not be resolved quickly.
“I see this delay as an opportunity for the NHS to finally grasp the nettle and see what services would be like if it delivered in collaboration with one or more Birmingham providers.
“I plead with the review team along with Worcester Acute Hospitals Trust to work with the Birmingham providers, what are they afraid of?”
A spokeswoman for the county’s CCGs said: “NHS England has clarified the model for acute hospital services in Worcestershire must be approved by the West Midlands Clinical Senate before it can go to public consultation.
“The West Midlands Clinical Senate’s work will include consideration of the Independent Clinical Review Panel whose findings, which were published in January this year, formed the basis for the proposed changes to local acute hospital services.”
She added following the senate’s approval the model would also need approval by NHS England before it could go to consultation.