Council leader throws support behind minor injury units

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The fight to save minor injuries units at Doddingham, Wisbech and Ely has won the support of the leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, who expressed concerns that public consultations were just a “box ticking exercise”.

Councillor James Palmer, who leads ECDC, has backed Northeast Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay, who was handed secret documents by a whistleblower, recommending the closure of the three units.

Councillor James Palmer
Councillor James Palmer

The leaked report led to Spotted in Ely launching our #saveourminorinjuriescampaign and galvanised Ely campaigner Emma Watson to launch a petition, calling for the three units to be saved.

Cllr Palmer said: “I am deeply concerned that this report has demonstrated that the promised consultation period involving local communities appears to be just a box ticking exercise.

“It would be very worrying if public opinion was to be completely ignored and health chiefs just ride roughshod over due process.”

The three units are used by around 30,000 patients each year.

Mr Palmer said: “They are a valuable resource and the feeling from the general public is that we cannot afford to lose them.”
The confidential report sets out the proposals of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). It outlined possible scenarios but said “the only option” was to close all three units.

If closures go ahead, patients will be forced to pay for travel and parking to get to A & E hospitals in Peterborough, Cambridge or elsewhere.

Cllr Palmer said he would be demanding answers from the CCG to establish the facts and find out what their plans were going forwards.

“In light of the leaked document, we need some answers,” he said.

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However, at a public meeting on Tuesday, the CCG said no decisions had yet been made, outlining six possible scenarios. These were made following a review by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director for England, who was commissioned by the government in 2013 to review the quality of care and treatment provided by NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts that were persistent outliers on mortality indicators.

The six options given by the CCG are as follows:

1. Continue with existing services as before.
2. Close all MIUs and hand over their roles to primary care and local Accident and Emergency departments.
3. Reconfigure services in the Fens and East Cambridgeshire to create “an integrated local urgent care service”.
4. Close all but one of the MIUs in the Fens and East Cambridgeshires but develop this into an Urgent Care Centre, with additional responsibilities.
5. Close one of the MIUs and develop the remaining two into Urgent Care Centres.
6. Develop all MIUs into Urgent Care Centres.

However, Conservative county and district councillor Anna Bailey said she was concerned that option one was unrealistic: “We know that the three MIUs cannot continue operating in the same way long term, so I am worried that the “do nothing” option really is a bit of a sham. I want to see Option 1 being turned into retention of the MIUs with a plan to improve them. The non-compliance with the Keogh standards are practical issues of opening hours, availability of diagnostic services and qualification levels of staff running the unit.  Notwithstanding the funding issues, which can’t be ignored, we must consider this as an option to see what can be done if we all work together.”

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Cllr Bailey also questioned the CCG’s suggestion that newly formed Joint Emergency Teams (JETs) and doctors’ surgeries may be able to take on minor injury services. During a meeting she held on August 8 with the CCG and local GPs, she said “extreme concern” was expressed about the capacity and ability of local GP practises to take on this work.

“I am very concerned about possible underutilisation of the sites being the reason to close them down altogether (and I noted that the CCG was unable to give information about site/service utilisation at [Tuesday] night’s meeting).  The PoW site must not be lost to healthcare provision.”

She has asked for more information from the CCG, including a “holistic plan” for the future health care provision of Ely, Doddington and Wisbech, taking into account future growth, including 3000 new homes in Ely, 1500 new homes in Littleport and a “possible garden town” in Wisbech.

“The CCG can be under no illusions about how local people feel about their Princess of Wales Hospital (PoW) after [Tuesday’s] meeting.  There was an incredibly powerful moment when a retired teacher asked everyone in the room to raise their hand if they had visited the Minor Injury Unit (MIU) at the PoW in the last year – almost every hand in the room went up!”