Zombie Future Fit: The cuts plan that just won’t die

It’s been an interesting kind of a day.

This afternoon, a body called the Future Fit Programme Board was due to take a decision on where it would site a single A&E to cover our population of over 600,000 people, living across more than 2000 square miles. The expectation was that they would endorse the ‘non-financial appraisal panel’ decision of 10 days ago.

Last week’s decision was to close the A&E and the Women and Children’s Centre at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital – an outcome that would have placed lives at risk. It was a lose-lose situation, with absolutely no victories for Shrewsbury or for Shropshire either. Shrewsbury’s Lingen Davies Cancer Centre was set to be closed down, with Shropshire people facing lengthy journeys for radiotherapy or chemotherapy. All planned surgery was to be taken away from Shrewsbury and moved to Telford. We also know that last week’s decision was for an A&E that was far too small, for an 11% cut in the number of hospital beds, and a 10% cut in spending on hospital staff. These were cuts that would have killed people – and this was the cuts package that everyone thought would be rubberstamped today.

This morning, a rumour emerged that Future Fit was in deep crisis. Informal reports from the Clinical Commissioning Group were that Future Fit would be put on hold until 2018/19, and the hospital trust (SaTH) would get on and take its own operational plans on what to do with the hospitals. At 4pm this afternoon, the story changed again. Future Fit survives, for now. It is now supposedly on hold for a month, in response to a threatened judicial review from Telford and Wrekin Council.

It’s an extraordinary state of affairs. This is a project that’s limped along for close to 3 years, and that was almost cancelled a year ago when NHS England declared that every single option was unaffordable! Every promise made by health bosses has been broken: no new investment, no care closer to home, no rural urgent care centres. Future Fit is a cuts project, it’s way past its sell-by date, and it’s time that health bosses called a halt to the whole charade. And how many £ millions have they wasted trying to con us into believing that this cuts project is about better patient care? They owe us an apology.

Future Fit may collapse. The timetable is very tight, and a month’s delay could finish it off. If it does fall apart, it’s a victory for campaigners. We’ve worked hard to expose just how shoddy the Future Fit plans are, and we’d be pleased to see the back of it. Unfortunately it would be a largely symbolic victory. Future Fit is now part of a wider cuts package called the ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan’. This will cut almost £150 million every single year from the local health budget, and will replace a lot of hospital care with ‘DIY’ self-care and community resilience approaches instead. These vicious cuts are still set to be implemented.

There’s an immediate threat as well. The hospital trust is in financial chaos, and now says it doesn’t have the money to deal with ‘winter pressures’ – to treat extra winter patients at both the Princess Royal and the Royal Shrewsbury in the coming months. There has to be a fear that they will just drive through the cuts they want, claiming that this is about patient safety in an attempt to avoid public consultation altogether.

From the Defend Our NHS campaign, the message is a clear and simple one – whether Future Fit staggers on or not. We have two A&Es because we need them. We have two District General Hospitals because we need them. We have an NHS because caring for sick and vulnerable people is the hallmark of a decent society. These are the reasons we’ll continue to fight against NHS cuts and closures, and why we’ll defend healthcare for people across Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, and Powys.

Today’s press release:  future-fit-dead-in-the-water.

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