Guest post by Councillor Tracey Huffer.

Yesterday afternoon, the team overseeing the Future Fit programme to reshape announced that it is deferring a decision on the future of A&E services in Shropshire. After more than two years of work, the question of whether the county will be reduced to a single accident and emergency centre at either Shrewsbury or Telford, or whether the current two A&Es will continue. It is now likely to be the autumn of 2016 before the Future Fit board makes this vital decision.

It is very frustrating that no decision has been reached. But it is also an opportunity to undertake a root and branch review of the entire Future Fit scheme (as I called for earlier this week). Too often Future Fit has had its head in the clouds, pursuing dream projects like a new super-hospital between Shrewsbury and Telford. That was never affordable. Because Future Fit didn’t have its feet on the ground, it has failed to recognise the contributions that community hospitals like Ludlow’s can make.

The delay to Future Fit gives an opportunity to change the way that the programme is run. It should be more practical and less theoretical. It should build on the resources we have rather than trying to reinvent things from scratch. Otherwise, Future Fit will only grind to a halt again.

I doubt we will see Future Fit continue in its current form. One reason given for the delay is that the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust is heading for a £23 million deficit. The Clinical Commissioning Groups say this must be cleared before Future Fit can proceed. But how long will that take? And surely, a long-term programme of hospital reform should not grind to halt because of temporary financial shortages?

The delay gives Shropshire Council an opportunity to lobby for retaining an A&E at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. Telford and Wrekin council is lobbying hard for an A&E to be retained at the Princesses Royal Hospital. It has even launched a petition to keep the A&E at the PRH.

I am completely disappointed that Shropshire Council has sat on the fence time and time again and failed to back an A&E in Shrewsbury. It ducked the issue at the full council meeting last week, when both campaigner Joyce Brand and I asked questions (see below). It is time for Shropshire Council to stand up for the county it represents.

Questions to Shropshire Council: 24 September

TRACEY HUFFER will ask the following question:

The Clinical Commissioning Group has announced that it no longer considers the option of building a green belt A&E unit between Shrewsbury and Telford viable. It also says that either the A&E at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital or at the Princess Royal in Telford must close. Will Shropshire Council add its voice to the majority of residents of this county and to that of Daniel Kawczynski MP in calling for the single A&E unit to belocated at the Royal Shrewsbury?

MRS KAREN CALDER, the Portfolio Holder for Health will reply:

In relation to the current consultation regarding the future configuration of Accident and Emergency (A&E) and Minor Injury treatment services, Shropshire Council’s primary interest is ensuring that our communities receive clinical evidence based, and appropriate treatment and care for the wide range of health conditions that occur in our lives.

As we have town and villages spread across most of the county from Woore in the North East, Ellesmere in the North West, Clun in the South West and Alveley in the South East, the location of A&E and Minor Injury services is not a simple East – West question.

Shropshire Council will continue to assess the evidence that emerges from the Future Fit programme, the views expressed by our communities across the length and breadth of Shropshire and the evidence and views of other stakeholders such as our partners in Powys and the West Midlands Ambulance Service before expressing our considered position on the short listed options. Elected Members and Council Officers will continue to play an active role in the Future Fit consultation and working groups in order to influence positively the work being undertaken.

JOYCE BRAND, Ludlow resident, will ask the following question:

What is Shropshire Council’s stated position in relation to the proposed closure of one of the Accident and Emergency Departments in Shropshire? Does the Council recognise that such a closure will result in an increased number of deaths for patients needing emergency treatment?

Has the Council taken part in discussion with Telford and Wrekin Council on the subject of emergency health provision in the County, if so, does this explain Telford and Wrekin’s public statement of support for retaining Accident and Emergency provision at Princess Royal Hospital and Shropshire Council’s total silence on the subject.’

MR K CALDER, Portfolio Holder for Health has replied as follows:

So far we have seen no evidence to indicate that the proposed model of Accident and Emergency and urgent care centres will cause an increase in the numbers of deaths from such patients. Indeed the continuing problems of having two under staffed Accident and Emergency departments has been identified as being a risk to patient care.

Shropshire Council has not been silent on this issue. Elected members and officers are actively engaged in the consultation on Future Fit, however as I have made clear, we will assess the evidence before making a final statement on our preferred model of service. For our colleagues and the communities in Telford and Wrekin, the geography of their area means that they have a less complex assessment to make of the Future Fit proposed options.

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