Councillors, hospital staff and members of the public launched a blistering attack on plans to ‘downgrade’ two wards at Louth County Hospital, at an extraordinary meeting of the town council on Monday evening (September 17).
As reported last week, Lincolnshire East CCG is consulting on two options concerning patient bed numbers across Manby and Carlton wards, which were reduced from 50 to 16 last summer while fire safety improvements were carried out - with the NHS giving assurances that the bed numbers would be increased again.
However, neither of the two options offer a return to the previous bed numbers, and instead focus on a ‘home first’ approach to care.
This approach was reiterated by Lincolnshire East CCG’s chief finance officer, Sandra Williamson, alongside local GP and Medical Director of the CCG, Dr Yvonne Owen, at Monday night’s meeting - with both insisting that evidence shows patients being in hospital longer than necessary can be detrimental to their health.
The pair also insisted that there are no plans to close the hospital, with Dr Owen saying it would close ‘over her dead body’.
However, Councillor Jason Garrett said he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ by the latest proposals, saying that his family have been forced to travel further away for medical treatment because local services have been lost.
You’re stretching the services at other hospitals - you’re moving the problem around and you’re not solving anythingCouncillor Jason Garrett
He said: “You’re saying the hospital won’t close, but what services are going to remain?
“These proposals are basically taking 50 beds away and replacing it with, effectively, a day care centre.”
To rapturous applause, Coun Garrett added: “You’re not increasing services anywhere, you’re taking more and more away.
“You’re stretching the services at other hospitals - you’re moving the problem around and you’re not solving anything.”
Mayor of Louth, Coun George Horton, voiced his concerns over the town’s growing population - potentially with 2,000 more dwellings in the pipeline for Louth.
He said: “We are struggling now. When you get potentially 6,000 more population coming in, we’re going to be at a breaking point.”
Coun Eileen Ballard said more pressure would be put on other struggling hospitals across the region - which, due to poor public transport links, could potentially take ‘up to six hours’ for residents from Louth and Mablethorpe to reach.
She added: “The ‘care in the community’ is not there. Somebody needs to wake up and see the problem that’s right in front of their faces.”
Coun Andrew Leonard said: “Over the years, we’ve re-painted the picture so many times, and here we are looking at painting the picture again in a different way.
“My worry is that at some stage that canvas will become totally useless and you won’t be able to re-paint the picture any more.
“At one point, will the bubble pop and that will be it for Louth’s hospital?”
The Mayor of Mablethorpe, Coun Steve Palmer, spoke up from the audience and said: “CCGs and hospital trusts are only doing what they’ve been forced into doing by lack of funding. We are not investing in our health service as we should be doing.
“All this fudging around is just trying to adapt to this underfunded service.
“They’ve got to, because the political masters upstairs, somewhere in Westminster - of whichever colour - are not funding the NHS correctly.”
Hospital staff members also spoke out to condemn the changes that they say have made their job more difficult.
Battling through tears, one hospital worker said: “We are family. Patients coming to us do not lose their independence, because we work bloody hard.
“They don’t leave us as bad as they came in. They don’t leave us poorly because we take damn good care of them!”
Campaigners from Fighting 4 Louth Hospital said in the past they had been ‘dismayed’ at the lack of support from the town council, apart from the Labour group, with some councillors making accusations of ‘scaremongering’.
Mayor of Louth, Coun George Horton, stressed the town council was ‘not against’ what the campaigners were doing but said procedures had to be followed. He called on everyone to ‘work together’ for the sake of the hospital.
Town councillors agreed to hold a public meeting at a larger venue in the coming weeks - more details as we have them.
• Have your say on the hospital consultation by visiting www.surveymonkey.com/r/Louthwards