Health chiefs call immediate halt to talks over threat to out of hours GP services at Ely and Doddington following widespread revolt and anger
PUBLISHED: 17:05 23 July 2019
Health chiefs ordered an immediate halt to consultations over the proposed axing of 80 per cent of the out of hours GP cover at Doddington and Ely hospitals.
North Cambs Hospital at Wisbech out of hours cover is also at risk.
Jan Thomas, Accountable Officer at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), pulled the plug on a consultation exercise begun by its out of hours provider Herts Urgent Care (HUC).
She said: "The staff consultation with Herts Urgent Care's staff has been stopped, until we have all had an opportunity to speak with patients and local residents."
She added: "We would like to emphasise that no decisions have been made about the out of hours service.
"Any proposals regarding the out of hours bases will have full impact assessments completed and we will engage with stakeholders before any decisions are made."
The surprise news comes after a seven day whirlwind of revelations and accusations after staff employed by HUC leaked news of the threats to the service but to some of their jobs.
County councillor Dave Connor said the message from her sounded an optimistic note.
He had written to health bodies telling them of the need for "a full reversion of their ludicrous plans that would hit the most vulnerable in our society".
Cllr Connor said he recognised the CCG needed to save up to £1 million a week but attacking the weak and isolated in society through this draconian measure was not the answer.
He accused the CCG of "wasting our money which is how they've got themselves into this mess".
Councillor Peter Hudson, chairman of the county health committee, said he was asking for urgent clarification over the plans from the CCG, who commission the services, which would affect communities already disadvantaged by too few health services.
Cllr Hudson said: "I am really very concerned regarding the reduction in services being proposed by the CCG.
"They have not consulted with local councillors or with our health committee, which has a statutory responsibility to scrutinise changes to the local health care, particularly those that affect local people.
"Let's be clear, the out of hours GP services play a critical role in both Fenland and Ely where there are no others services of this nature.
"The ramifications are that the CCG will be short changing communities that are already disadvantaged in terms of health. If these reports are true, we will be sticking up for local people - access to health services shouldn't be based on a postcode but are a universal right in this country wherever you live."
He added: "Cambridgeshire County Council's health committee has the statutory responsibility to scrutinise changes in the local health system."
Under the proposals staff covering out of hours GP health teams at Ely and Doddington would be axed in the autumn amidst claims patients would face "unacceptable delays" if the changes go ahead.
A circular letter sent to all local councillors from 'concerned staff' at HUC said that "these changes are imminent and will happen if no local actions are taken.
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"Staff have already been given notice of change of their work patterns and even redundancy if these roster changes cannot be agreed."
Currently out of hours GP cover is provided from Addenbrooke's Hospital, Peterborough City Care Centre, Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Doddington Hospital and the Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely.
From October 1, says the HUC staff, "significant cuts" will see the Ely and Doddington centres removed from the out-of-hours provision.
Patients can go there on weekdays evenings and nights and on Fridays at anytime through till Monday -all the times the daytime GP practices are closed.
Scrapping the service - apart from five hours at Doddington on Saturdays and Sundays and eight hours on Saturday and Sundays at Ely - represents a cut of over 80 per cent in service provision.
"The result of this change will be that patients will have to make long journeys to appointments at the three remaining centres and all home visiting clinicians will have to travel from the larger centres," says the circular.
"In short, for choosing to live outside of Cambridge, Peterborough and Huntingdon patients will be disadvantaged and face unacceptable delays in accessing urgent out-of-hours care."
The Herts staff added: "There has been no public scrutiny of consultation."
Their statement added that removing or down grading services such as this at local hospitals makes the provision of other services at these sites "vulnerable". They fear that in the not too distant future both sites could be deemed "no longer used sufficiently".
David Archer, HUC chief executive officer, said: "Re-deployment of resources during the week from Ely and Doddington bases would be moved into larger, busier bases at Peterborough and Cambridge.
"This revised model has been approved by the CCG, which we feel will have a positive impact on the service."
"There are still a couple of outstanding elements that need to be agreed but we hope we can include Wisbech as part of the mobilisation of the new service," Mr Archer adds.
"This is a really big opportunity for HUC and it has only been made possible through the hard work and dedication of every clinician, operational staff member and the local management team who have worked tirelessly to provide a safe and effective service for patients."
Simon Ingate, head of urgent care Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: "I would like to take the opportunity to assure you that we recognise that this is an unsettling time, however it is important that we meet patient demand and provide a safe and effective service."
A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG said: "Patients can only access the GP out of hours service through NHS 111.
"We constantly monitor the use of all our Out of Hours GP services to ensure we meet patient demand which fluctuates all the time, and to ensure the most efficient use of our limited GP resources.
"As a result of this there are times when a GP will not be located at all our bases simultaneously.
"However, the nearest base will be kept open alongside a mobile home visiting service.
"Patients will be advised which Out of Hours base to attend for the earliest appointment by the NHS 111 Clinical advisor or will be given a home visit if appropriate.
"This has never affected the opening hours of the Minor Injury Units."