Letters

Hospitals must not be closed without considering all factors

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7339.739/a (Published 23 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:739
  1. John Parry, retired.
  1. 20 Crescent Road, Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire PO12 2DH

    EDITOR—The article by Lock, the former member of parliament for Kidderminster, who is upset about losing his parliamentary seat having failed to convince his constituents that they did not need their local hospital, is interesting.1 It shows the chasm that has opened up between politicians and the general public and the tight compartments into which the government confines decision making, despite the promise of joined up government. The only consideration mentioned by Lock is medical safety in Kidderminster Hospital, and the only people he seems to have consulted are doctors, and yet he remains confident that he is right and 28 000 voters in Kidderminster are wrong.

    What about other relevant factors? Can the alternative hospital handle the increased load? Is it accessible? Are any bottlenecks likely to separate the people of Kidderminster from their accident and emergency cover? Can the ambulance service handle the increased load and guarantee to deliver patients on time? Are essential staff likely to be retained within the NHS? Is the population in the catchment area increasing or decreasing? Is there potential for major disasters in the area? Can these be handled once the target hospital is closed? There is no medical safety in having the best manned and equipped hospital in the country if it cannot do the job.

    The Kidderminster experience is almost a repeat of what has happened in Gosport. The main differences are that our local hospital, the Royal Hospital Haslar, is also the United Kingdom's last military hospital, and our member of parliament listened to his constituents and is leading the “Save Haslar” campaign. As in Kidderminster, the public consultation revealed little common ground between platform and public, and as usual the public proved to be right. Lack of capacity to cope with additional patients at neighbouring hospitals has forced the reopening of much of Haslar Hospital. This will become even more important as a massive house building programme attracts thousands more people into the catchment area. The accident and emergency department has not yet been restored, but everyone knows that the current provision is inadequate. The prospect of a seriously ill patient from Gosport reaching accident and emergency in time, along the highly congested single lane road, is highly speculative.

    Politicians must start listening to the public, and all relevant factors must be fully considered before such important decisions as hospital closures are taken. The closure of Haslar, which has caused so much anxiety and distress in this district, was decided unilaterally by the Ministry of Defence.

    References

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