ONCE again this week, a national politician has spouted the inane refrain used to batter our hospital services in Bucks: “Changes to front-line health services are a matter for the local NHS.”
Those were the words of health minister Dr Daniel Poulter in the House of Commons when responding to the pleas of Wycombe MP Steve Baker over the apparently inevitable loss of vascular services at Wycombe Hospital.
These Government types like telling us it’s not their decision. Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said as much when the Bucks Free Press editor led a Wycombe delegation to Whitehall last year.
In our view, it’s dangerous and stupid tosh – and an easy get-out clause for Governments permitting disastrous national policies of NHS centralisation.
We say Governments in the plural because this began under Labour and has carried on under the Coalition. We would like to say a plague on both their houses as far as our precious NHS is concerned. The trouble is that we wouldn’t wish a plague on anyone, because they would probably have to travel many miles to a distant town for treatment – and then they’d find A&E bursting at the seams, as Stoke Mandeville’s has been for the last two weekends.
Where Dr Poulter, Mr Lansley and countless other politicians have got this so wrong is that the unelected local NHS has virtually no local democratic accountability, apart from reporting to a county council scrutiny committee. Wycombe’s MP, and his predecessor, have for years, spoken out against various decisions, while the district council even secured a unique cross-party motion condemning recent changes. Many thousands of people have complained and signed petitions with almost no effect.
Yes, officials listened last year and kept open a 24-hour urgent care service at Wycombe, instead of closing it at 10pm. But this was a small concession after years of rejecting virtually all public appeals.
Dr Poulter – you may be a doctor but you do not know best on this one. The local NHS is not our NHS; it is instead a bunch of bureaucrats who have followed national policy and trends over many years in the face of overwhelming public opposition.
Shouldn’t the local NHS truly reflect the will of the local people? There is little evidence the Government believes this, and that is a tragedy for Wycombe.