‘GMB are calling on the government and the minister of health to reinstate the A&E services to Epsom,’ Paul Maloney, Senior Officer of the GMB told News Line yesterday.
Two thousand people, including hundreds of GMB trade union members, together with other unions, political and community groups from the Epsom area, marched under the GMB Southern Region banner last Saturday, 30th September, to demonstrate against the closure of the A&E unit at Epsom General Hospital.
Hospital chiefs, acting under the plan to rationalise general hospitals in favour of large geographical catchment areas, announced the closure of the Epsom A&E department as of midnight on the 30th of September 2006.
This means that all patients will now have to go to St Helier Hospital in Sutton where a chronic financial crisis exists, says the GMB.
GMB official Maloney told the rally: ‘Everybody on the march was angry with the way hospital chiefs have ignored the wishes of the public in favour of ploughing ahead with outdated plans for the NHS.
‘We have already seen the closure of five health institutions in the Epsom area in favour of luxurious housing which has caused an increase in the local population and an increase in demand for Accident and Emergency services.
‘The additional journey to St Helier Hospital will almost definitely mean a higher mortality rate for patients needing A&E services.’
Meanwhile, in Birmingham, plans are being finalised for the first ‘takeover’ of an NHS district general hospital by a foundation trust.
The Heart of England foundation trust plans to acquire the nearby Good Hope NHS Hospital Trust.
Under the plans – first mooted in March of this year by Good Hope managers in the face of a £1m a month ‘overspend’ and a £27m ‘historic deficit’ – Good Hope will be formally dissolved, with its assets, liabilities and staff taken over by Heart of England.
The foundation trust has been running Good Hope on a management contract for most of the past year.
Negotiations are taking place on how much of Good Hope’s debt can be written off, or absorbed by the strategic health authority (SHA), after Heart of England has made clear it is not willing to take over all of the deficit.
Referring to the ‘takeover’ a spokesman for the government’s foundation trust regulator, said: ‘We expect there will be similar transactions in perhaps double-digit numbers.’
UNISON regional organiser Ray Salmon told News Line yesterday: ‘We face two difficult options. If Good Hope stands alone, it will have to make huge job cuts.
‘We are not sure what will happen with the merger but we will resist job cuts or cuts to services.’
A British Medical Association spokesperson commented: ‘Theoretically, this scenario – of a foundation trust taking over another trust – has been possible for a while.
‘However, this is the first time we’ve seen these competitive tendencies come to the fore in this way.
‘One of the consequences of a competitive market is that foundation trusts will begin to look at ways of expanding.
‘We’re concerned that if these “takeovers” are not carefully planned and considered they could have an impact on staff – their ways of working and terms and conditions and, more importantly, on patient care.’
Royal College of Nursing policy officer told News Line: ‘This is a worrying development.
‘We’ve heard that other foundation trusts have been talking to each other about similar “takeovers”.
‘Apparently, the SHA is going to take on the Good Hope debt.
‘If foundation trusts are going to get all the assets but none of the risk, we ask who is going to pay for all this?
‘Heart of England is getting a new set of hospital buildings and staff – are they going to start making cuts to services and patient care?’
NO DISPUTE DECLARED AT NHS LOGISTICS
Following the government’s defiance of its own Congress decision that there must be a halt to privatisation, NHS Logistics was sold to the German parcels giant DHL yesterday.
A spokesperson for the UNISON trade union, which moved the anti-privatisation motion at the Labour Party conference told News Line that UNISON was not in dispute with DHL.
She added: ‘It’s a new employer so we’d have to have a new strike ballot.’
Asked if UNISON had launched a ballot, she added: ‘No, we’d have to register a dispute.’
Asked if UNISON has registered a dispute, she replied: ‘No. What we are doing is seeking assurances from DHL on what is going to happen to the contracts with the NHS.
‘We’re looking at whether corners are being cut.
‘We want to discuss their plans and how they will affect staff and services, then we will make a decision.’
• For the first time in its history UNISON is to hold a fringe meeting at the Tory Party conference, where it will condemn privatisation.