Hinchingbrooke: Hospital campaign is unstoppable

THE campaign to prevent Huntingdon s Hinchingbrooke Hospital being downgraded seems to be developing an unstoppable momentum. Petitions abound across the district, and thousands are expected to march through the streets of Huntingdon on Saturday, October

THE campaign to prevent Huntingdon's Hinchingbrooke Hospital being downgraded seems to be developing an unstoppable momentum.

Petitions abound across the district, and thousands are expected to march through the streets of Huntingdon on Saturday, October 7, to a rally at the hospital that will be addressed by MPs Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire). The march starts at 10.30am at Riverside Park in Huntingdon

Among banners in the march from the riverside to the hospital will be one from a group of eight Women's Institutes, organised by Hemingford Grey WI president Phyllis Brooks.

The village institute and 30 volunteers will be taking a petition, demanding the retention of first class medical facilities reflecting Huntingdonshire's rapid growth, to every door in Hemingford Grey.

"We are about to find out just how many homes there are in the village," Mrs Brooks told The Hunts Post. The petition can also be signed at the village shop, post office and sports and social club.

Sir Peter Brown, county councillor and Conservative Party agent, who has organised another petition that is available in doctors' and dentists' surgeries, libraries, parish councils, pub and restaurants - and the offices of The Hunts Post, in Huntingdon High Street - has been surprised by the public response.

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"I've never seen anything like it. Petitions don't normally attract this level of support. I had one woman from Hail Weston wanting sufficient copies for her to visit every house in the village," he said.

The issue has brought together some unexpected bedfellows, with the Tories collaboration with the trade union Unison, which is organising the October 7 march.

At Huntingdonshire District Council this afternoon (Wednesday) opposition Lib Dem leader Councillor Peter Downes will move: "In the light of the growing population of Huntingdonshire and of Huntingdon's pivotal position in a growing road network, this council opposes any plans to close Hinchingbrooke Hospital and calls on the strategic health authority to maintain good levels of health care at the hospital, including an accident and emergency unit". That motion is likely to be seconded by the controlling Tories' deputy leader, Councillor Mike Simpson.

And St Ives Labour Party has written to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, warning of the risk of fatal delays if patients who are now treated at Hinchingbrooke were to be transferred to Addenbrooke's.

March organiser, Unison branch secretary Michael Gough, welcomed the burying of political differences. "If community spirit comes back in, all the better," he said.

The huge groundswell of public opinion has prompted the stategic health authority's chairman to deny that a rush review of Hinchingbrooke reflects the authority's determination to close it.

The authority is also reviewing all 19 district general hospitals across its east of England patch, though on a less hurried timescale.

"I must stress that the SHA has no pre-determined intention to close any particular hospital," said its chairman Keith Pearson. "What we want is to agree a pattern of hospital services that will be clinically strong and financially viable for the coming decades."

Hinchingbrooke's financial crisis - which is largely an artificial one created by the skewed way efficient non-foundation trust hospitals are penalised to prop up inefficient ones - has coincided with the wider review.

Since district general hospitals first began to emerge 40 years ago there have been huge changes in hospital treatments, with 80 per cent of surgery now not involving an overnight stay.

Increasing specialisation and extending the boundaries of medical knowledge and surgical expertise mean the best treatment may be delivered by sending patients from a wider area for specialised attention. Papworth hospital is a good example of where this has already happened in open-heart surgery and multiple organ transplants.

This means Hinchingbrooke might lose some services to other hospitals, such as Addenbrooke's or Peterborough General, but might attract patients from Cambridge, Peterborough and beyond to specialities in which Huntingdon acquires "super-hospital" status.

There is also an increasing trend for what used to be regarded as hospital services, such as physiotherapy and dermatology, to delivered in the community.

Once the review of Hinchingbrooke is complete next month, the findings and any recommendations from the SHA will be discussed informally with medical professionals and councils to develop options. Formal public consultation will take place before decisions are taken.