Senior councillors and health chiefs in Shropshire have vowed to further lobby the Government to ensure local people get access to the right health and care services that meet their needs.
The move comes following the delay in the Future Fit programme, whereby it was clear from the evidence gathered that Shropshire cannot sustain two fully-staffed and operational accident and emergency (A&E) departments.
The key factor that has appeared to influence the two local Clinical Commissioning Groups’ decision has been the lack of access to national funding to take the Future Fit recommendations forward. The decision highlights the underfunding of health and councils.
Rural NHS services and rural councils receive significantly less funding per head of population than urban areas, so there is great pressure on local health and social care budgets.
In 2014, the Rural Services Network commissioned an in-depth study into the costs of providing local government services in rural areas. That study, which was sent to the Government, clearly proved that like-for-like services are more expensive to provide in rural council areas than urban ones.
Although the Government is reviewing the costs in rural areas, counties like Shropshire continue to remain underfunded.
Therefore, having to delay a decision on Future Fit places greater pressure on local resources, and means that it will take longer for local A&E services to be fit for the future.
In light of their disappointment in the delay in the programme, Shropshire Council Cabinet members all agreed that one emergency department based at Shrewsbury is the best way of ensuring everyone has access to emergency services and the care they need. The reason being is that there is more choice available for communities living in the east of the county and closer to A&E services in Newcastle, Stoke, Wolverhampton and Kidderminster. However, for those communities in the west of Shropshire, and those Welsh counties bordering Shropshire who access Shropshire health services, the choice is far more limited.
Karen Calder, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for health, said:
“We want to ensure that the Future Fit programme is fit for purpose, and that the health needs of Shropshire residents remain at the heart of any decision-making.
“Whilst we need to ensure that our communities can access the health services they need easily, and that those services are as close as possible to where they need them, it is clear from the evidence gathered as part of Future Fit that Shropshire cannot sustain two fully- staffed and operational A&E departments. This is why we feel maintaining the A&E service at Shrewsbury is the best option.
“However, deferring a decision on Future Fit severely limits the ability to transform hospital and community services. It also adds further pressure onto local NHS budgets to maintain hospital services, that are clearly struggling to achieve the standards that clinicians and the public wish to achieve and receive.
“Therefore we will be lobbying the Secretary of State for Health to enable this essential programme to go ahead.”
Lee Chapman, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for adult services, added:
“We are very disappointed that the outcome of the two-year consultation has been postponed, following further reassessment around the sustainability of their options.
“Shropshire has one of the highest levels of older people in the UK, and the costs of an inefficient health service are causing severe pressure on our adult social care services which costs millions of pounds per year, and this cannot be sustained. At a time when social care budgets are under severe pressure, Future Fit offered Shropshire the opportunity for the county to develop evidence-based health services that will meet the needs of local people.
“We need to have health and care services which address the needs of our residents and that are financially viable. Therefore, close working between health and social care organisations is essential.
“Any investment in new facilities will need to be approved by the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England, and in order to start consulting around the options more work needs to be done, plus modelling associated with the finances of the assessment.”