THE lives of hospital patients in Bridlington could be at risk if they have to travel for more than an hour to use life-saving medical services, according to local health campaigners.
A leaked money-saving report has suggested an unprecedented level of cuts at Scarborough Hospital may be on their way.
The cuts could see the A&E department at Scarborough shut down during the night, bed space at the hospital reduced by 30% to 50%, the maternity service downgraded and emergency general surgery and inpatient paediatric care moved to York.
This has sparked fury from health campaigners in the town, who have already seen most of Bridlington Hospital’s services moved to Scarborough over the past decade.
Jean Wormwell MBE, secretary of Pensioners Action Group East Riding (PAGER) was “staggered” by the report, produced by management consultants KPMG for the NHS in North Yorkshire, which faces a £19 million spending deficit this year as well as having to make around £250 million in savings over the next five years.
“It is unbelievable and appalling to think that all these services could be lost locally,” said Mrs Wormwell.
“It would immediately create a transport problem. How would patients get to York for these services? I’m not sure the ambulance service would be able to cope.
“It certainly feels as if the people of Bridlington have been hit twice. We were promised that the merger between the Scarborough Trust and York Trust would be beneficial to the people of Bridlington, so we went along with it.
“It seems now that it was a takeover, not a merger. I don’t know where patients come into the decision making.”
If the A&E service were to close overnight, it would leave Bridlington patients facing a 40-mile journey to York which would take at least an hour and 10 minutes – longer in heavy traffic or bad weather.
Currently, Bridlington patients have an 18-mile trip to Scarborough’s A&E, which has already treated 37,935 people in 2012.
Mick Pilling, who ran the Save Bridlington Hospital campaign which delivered a 40,000 name petition to Downing Street to stop services being taken away from the town in 2008, said: “This has gone beyond a joke.
“Bridlington Hospital has seen services removed to Scarborough for years, and now they look likely to be taken even further away.
“I don’t know what will happen to Bridlington patients if they have to travel to Hull or York, especially for A&E.
“The roads in this area are not the best and it can take an age to get anywhere. The ambulance service is already stretched.
“It is always about money. The ones at the top are playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.”
Campaigners have warned of a population drain away from Bridlington, fearing that many people moving to the town - especially retirees – would choose elsewhere due to the lack of nearby hospital facilities.
Fears have also been raised about the possibility of redundancies, both at Bridlington and Scarborough Hospitals.
One staff member at Bridlington Hospital, who did not want to be named, said: “York are now doing to Scarborough what Scarborough did to Bridlington.
“We were promised a new hospital manager and a host of services at Bridlington when York took over, but we have had nothing. We’ve got 58 empty beds here over two wards.
“People will be worried about their jobs.”
But Bridlington MP Greg Knight said no decisons had been made.
He said: “As far as I am aware there are no proposals. There is a report commissioned to look at a number of options, some of those options will be acceptable and some will not be as acceptable.
“I don’t know who leaked the document but it smacks of being leaked by a trade union to me.
“Of course, any change that would increase the risk to patients living in or close to Bridlington would be unacceptable and I would oppose it.
“I am not going to criticise management because they have not announced anything.”
Scarborough’s MP Robert Goodwill said he will “fight until the death” to retain life-saving services in Scarborough and branded the leaked proposals “completely unacceptable”, saying the A&E would only close “over my dead body.”
But Joan Fletcher, chairman of East Riding of Yorkshire LINk – a local patient representative group – reassured people that lots of work needed to be done before any firm proposals were agreed.
She said: “It is important that people shouldn’t panic, as the proper debate will take place, if and when any of these options are considered.
“Mike Proctor, Deputy CEO at York Trust stated only last month that the Trust is committed to Scarborough and Bridlington Hospitals and that it was not its intention to reduce services on the east coast; York Hospital does not have the capacity to be able to do this.”
Chief executive of NHS North Yorkshire and York Cluster, Christopher Long, and Simon Cox, chief operating officer for NHS Scarborough and Ryedale Clinical Commissioning Group which will take over administering healthcare services in the new year, both confirmed that talks had taken place to reduce costs, but that any significant changes would be the subject of public consultation.
Patrick Crowley, chief executive of York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As a provider of health services we have been heavily involved in this process so far, and will continue to have an active input into these discussions.
“We remain committed to the principles underpinning the integration of York and Scarborough Hospitals, which are to develop safe, sustainable services where patients need them.
“There is a wider responsibility to the public in relation to reconfiguring services, and as and when any proposals are agreed that would result in a major change to services, they will be subject to formal public consultation and wider debate.”
In the 2011/2012 year, 1,722 babies were delivered at Scarborough Hospital or in the community. While Bridlington mums have a choice where to have their baby, most are delivered in Scarborough.