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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Fears over future of North Cumbria's hospital trust

Labour is today appealing for Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs to help block measures it says will give ministers sweeping powers to close hospitals and downgrade services.

Cumberland Infirmary photo
Cumberland Infirmary

The party claims North Cumbria’s hospital trust, which runs the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, and the West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven, would be among those “at risk” due to its long-running financial problems.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham claims clause 119 of the Care Bill – due to be debated in the House of Commons today – would allow health secretary Jeremy Hunt to “ride roughshod” over local residents’ concerns.

The Opposition has highlighted more than 30 cash-strapped trusts they argue would be “at risk” if it was made easier to rationalise services.

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in south Cumbria, is also on the list.

However, the Conservative party has accused Labour of “irresponsible scaremongering”.

The Government has brought forward amendments to the Bill after a court threw out plans to downgrade Lewisham Hospital in the face of fierce local objections.

Mr Burnham said: “This Government used to say it wanted to put patients and doctors in charge of the local NHS.

“Now Jeremy Hunt wants to ride roughshod over local communities and have carte blanche to break up the NHS without anyone else having a say. He must be stopped.

“With more and more hospitals in financial difficulty, this move could hit every community in the land and leave them voiceless in the face of changes to their services.

“Labour is clear: changes to hospitals should be driven by clinical, not financial, reasons with local people involved every step of the way.

“That is why we believe these plans are dangerous and wrong. It is time for Parliament to stop an arrogant Secretary of State from overstepping the mark.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “These claims from Andy Burnham are irresponsible scaremongering of the worst kind – changes to the special administrator regime will simply ensure that patients get safe care, and these powers have only ever been used in extremis twice since 2009, when Labour introduced them in the first place.

“This Government is determined to turn round failing hospitals, unlike the Opposition, which didn’t confront the sort of under performance and failure we tragically saw at Mid Staffs.

“If anything, our proposals extend the requirement to consult and engage with local people and local doctors, and it’s nothing but an act of political opportunism to suggest otherwise.”

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