Horncastle’s MP Victoria Atkins has warned health chiefs that they are in danger of losing the trust of the public amid mounting fears about the future of Louth Hospital.
Ms Atkins organised what proved to be a fiery public meeting last Friday when bosses from Lincolnshire East CCG defended their plans to reduce patient bed numbers on two wards.
The MP joined residents in questioning officials, although she faced some hostility herself over claims the Government had slashed spending on the NHS.
The number of beds at the hospital - used by many people from the Horncastle area - was ‘temporarily’ reduced from 50 to 16 in two wards last summer while fire safety works were carried out.
Last month, it was confirmed Lincolnshire East CCG is asking the public for their views on two proposals - to have either 16 or 20 beds across the wards - with a focus on developing a ‘home first’ approach to care, where patients are treated in their local community.
However, concerns have been raised that a permanent reduction in beds would be a step towards downgrading the hospital - with many patients, councillors and staff airing such views at the meeting.
Following introductory presentations, Ms Atkins grilled the panel - which included the CCG’s chief finance officer Sandra Wilkinson and East Lindsey representative Dr Neal Parkes - with concerns she received from her constituents.
Ms Atkins said: “A number of people have written to me regarding the promise last year that 50 beds would be restored after the essential fire renovation works.
“This isn’t happening and the question people are posing is: how can we trust you?”
Dr Parkes responded that re-opening 40 beds (the new limit under latest guidance) would be very easy, but would not necessarily improve outcomes for patients - and added the NHS had to seek better ways of providing healthcare for the population.
He said muscle wasting for older people in hospital beds is ‘horrendous’ and added the number of beds should not be the ‘currency’ for determining the system’s success - but added the situation could be looked at again in the future if it isn’t successful.
Several people questioned future provision for care at the hospital.
The CCG responded by saying they were looking at ‘changing’ - rather than ‘downgrading’ services.
Ms Atkins came under fire after claiming there are now thousands more doctors and nurses than in 2010.
One resident shouted: “That is not true. Your government is chopping our National Health Service!”
Following Friday’s meeting, Paul Simpson (co-founder of the Fighting 4 Louth Hospital campaign) issued a statement which questioned the CCG’s plans.
He said: “Council care budgets have been cut drastically and are set to be cut further next year, the NHS Trust is in deficit and is grossly under-funded, the community care system is under-staffed, over-stretched and under-resourced, and care from private companies prohibitively expensive for many.
“Where are all these new services being magicked up from and who’s paying?
“Neither of the options put forward for our much needed and much loved local hospital will be accepted by the people of East Lindsey.
“They put patients who could be our children, our partners, our parents, our families, our friends, our neighbours, our communities, at risk.
“We say this to the Lincolnshire East CCG...think again. Do not gamble with our lives.”