Behind the brave talk from health bosses, the Future Fit cuts and closure plans are in desperate trouble.
Tonight, Telford and Wrekin Councillors voted unanimously to refer the Future Fit decision to the Secretary of State for Health.
This, set alongside a continued public campaign against Future Fit, creates a very real prospect the defeat of these disgraceful plans.
Councillor Andy Burford, Chair of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Joint Chair of the Joint HOSC with Shropshire Council, introduced the motion for referral. It was a calm, measured and well-informed speech – impressive in its careful demolition of the case for Future Fit.
Councillor Burford set out a strong case that Future Fit was not properly consulted on, explaining the repeated violations of the ‘Gunning Principles’ (the statutory framework for public sector consultation). His arguments included a fundamentally important point. By the time of public consultation, Future Fit options were reduced to mirror images that pitted Telford against Shrewsbury. This was not ‘consultation when proposals were at a formative stage’.
He explained the repeated requests for information from the Scrutiny Committee – and the repeated failure of Future Fit to answer questions. In a scathing commentary, Councillor Burford suggested the attitude of health leaders was “Don’t worry your heads about the things we might have to do to services to make all this stack up, we’ll manage it”.
Councillor Burford explained, too, the lack of time allowed for scrutiny of many Future Fit documents produced at the last moment, and the failure of health leaders to give the required ‘conscientious consideration’ to their own consultation findings. “I’m sorry, that’s not good enough”, he said.
He went on to savage the bizarre notion that losing Women’s and Childrens and losing the A&E can possibly be in the interests of healthcare in Telford and Wrekin. He outlined the catastrophic lack of funding for the community and primary care services that would be needed to make the Future Fit model work. And although he praised the ‘neighbourhood’ work that was taking place in Telford and Wrekin, he explained the view from Scrutiny and from local GPs that this could not bring about a major population scale impact in reducing the pressure on acute care.
Councillor Burford was clear that there are alternatives to Future Fit. “My bigger picture includes a 10 year plan that places the emphasis on integrated working at local level”, he said – and added, “And yet I see Future Fit focusing on money for buildings rather than local health and adult social care”.
And he summed up by saying, “We are facing the biggest ever challenge for the future of health and wellbeing of our borough”. He called for unity, in support of referral, and for the Council to do everything it collectively could do to persuade the government to halt Future Fit.
What is important – and this is why health bosses should be very, very frightened – is that not a single Councillor disagreed with him. Speaker after speaker praised Councillor Burford’s work and agreed with his analysis.
Council Leader Shaun Davies described Future Fit as “a sorry mess” and condemned the real risk that would be created for people in the borough, the county and the region if Future Fit went ahead. He called on Councillors to speak with one voice in sending a clear message to the Secretary of State that he must intervene.
Councillor Eade said “We need to combine to show our utter contempt for the way we’re being collectively treated by Future Fit”, and called for a wider unity to include the experience and knowledge of David Sandbach, former Chief Executive of PRH, and Gill George of Defend Our NHS.
Five or six other Councillors contributed to the debate. They disagreed on some things: on the role of the government, and on whether local MPs Lucy Allan and Mark Pritchard had done a good job or a poor job. Political differences, particularly with an election ahead, plainly remain. But on Future Fit, they stood absolutely as one in rejecting the plans. And when it came to the vote to refer the Future Fit decision to Matt Hancock, it was unanimous.
The Council now needs to put together the detailed case behind its referral. In Defend Our NHS, we wrote last week to every Councillor explaining the kind of approach that will support victory. We’ll be doing everything we can to support the robust and evidence-based case that is now needed.
And for health bosses, there was an important reminder tonight. Their own consultation showed that Telford and Wrekin people oppose Future Fit. Tonight’s meeting showed that the political representatives of Telford and Wrekin people also oppose Future Fit. What on earth makes health bosses think they can get away with driving this through? It’s time to pull the plug on Future Fit.