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Campaigners claim victory in bid for 24/7 urgent care
THE controversial transfer of specialist services out of Wycombe Hospital was rubber-stamped yesterday - but campaigners claimed a key victory over the former A&E ward.
NHS chiefs were considering shutting the ward overnight, but accepted the "clear public demand" to retain a 24-hour urgent care unit at Queen Alexandra Road.
The issue was first raised by the Bucks Free Press, before more than 7,000 people signed petitions calling for the soon-to-be downgraded unit to remain open round the clock.
BFP editor Steve Cohen, who is also chairman of the Save Our Hospital Services [SOHS] campaign group, said: "I thank health officials for taking our views seriously and acting on them.
"But I will reserve any real celebrations for the time when the new unit is open and working to a standard the public would expect of any A&E-type unit.
"Yes it’s a great victory for people power - but the fat lady hasn’t sung on this one yet."
The decision was made by NHS Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Cluster, which accepted the recommendations of its medical director Geoff Payne.
He said the number of patients attending the unit at night is low, but added: "What’s unacceptable for me as a commissioner is for people to get to the hospital in the middle of the night and find a locked door or a note on the door saying please call the GP service."
In terms of the consultation into the overall changes, an official report by a communications firm said the proposals were supported by a majority of those taking part.
Terry Price, of SOHS and Marlow People’s Action Group, told board members the report was based on a "very minute" number of people.
He told the meeting at the King’s Centre in High Wycombe: "You must be concerned about it considering the number of people living in Buckinghamshire. My organisation represents about 1,000 people and they are not happy at all."
A spokesman for the NHS Cluster said later: “We would have welcomed any comments from Terry Price’s organisation. We made strenuous efforts to get out and explain the proposals to as many people as possible.”
Clive Caseley, of Verve Communications, showed the public concerns over issues such as transport and the future of Wycombe Hospital had been given prominence in the report.
The report includes the responses of 120 people who filled in a questionnaire, 399 who attended public meetings and 620 who attended ‘stakeholder’ meetings.
The stakeholders ranged from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Stoke Mandeville Parish Council, to the Wycombe Labour Party and SOHS.
About 250 hospital staff also attended meetings to give feedback on the plans.
The changes are due to be implemented in October, but Cluster board members said work will continue with Buckinghamshire County Council, which has demanded more documentation before backing the proposals.
The council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee has the power to refer the decision to the Government.
The board also acknowledged more work is needed to improve transport to hospitals, as well as communication with patients and the public about hospital services.
Wycombe’s A&E ward was downgraded to an Emergency Medical Centre in 2005. The current plans would mean the unit is further downgraded to a Minor Injuries and Illnesses Unit, which will be staffed by GPs.
See related links for more details on the plans, plus the official consultation reports and background about the 24/7 campaign.