Huge support for hospital

AT least 25,000 people have signed petitions and letters to the strategic health authority to protest at the threat to the future of Hinchingbrooke Hospital, in Huntingdon. Almost 10,000 readers of The Hunts Post and visitors to our office in Huntingdon H

AT least 25,000 people have signed petitions and letters to the strategic health authority to protest at the threat to the future of Hinchingbrooke Hospital, in Huntingdon.

Almost 10,000 readers of The Hunts Post and visitors to our office in Huntingdon High Street have signed letters and petitions. In addition, a petition to Parliament organised by Huntingdon Conservative Association with cross-party support has attracted up to twice as many names.

Conservative agent, Sir Peter Brown, said yesterday (Tuesday): "We're still counting the signatures, but we believe there are up to 20,000 of them.

"The overwhelming support shown by local people is indicated by the numbers of people signing petitions and The Hunts Post letters. The strategic health authority would be very foolish to ignore local feelings."

But, a week after former Prime Minister Sir John Major weighed in behind the Hinchingbrooke campaign, Sir Peter warned that the fight was far from won. "There's still a long way to go," he stressed.

Hunts Post editor Andy Veale agreed. "The fight for the best answer to Hinchingbrooke's future goes on. But our readers have shown very clearly that they will not accept damage to services at their hospital.

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"Huntingdonshire is ex-panding rapidly. It needs better services, not fewer, and we shall continue to campaign for the best solution for the district's patients and other users of Hinchingbrooke."

The hospital's interim chief executive, Jane Herbert, said the public's response was an endorsement of the quality of healthcare provided on the site and of the confidence patients had in the staff who worked there.

"I have always said that no change was not an option, but I hope that, by streamlining what we do, we can retain the range and quality of care that patients are saying very clearly that they prize very highly."

Meanwhile, non-executive members of the hospital trust's board denied that they were resigned to the hospital being downgraded.

One, Victor Lucas, who is also a Cambridgeshire county councillor, said the misunderstanding could be the result of the non-execs' role on the board.

"We haven't yet considered the three options for the future," he said this week. "We'll do that at Thursday's board meeting, but we shall still be waiting for information about the pros and cons of the three options and which would be the most viable.

"Non-executives are right to challenge - that's what we're there for. We very much want to be able to support the option that is most likely to be accepted by the community and most likely to meet the community's needs. That's not the same as disagreeing with executive members."

n As in quoted commercial companies, non-executive board members are required to act in the interests of shareholders - in this case taxpayers and patients - by satisfying themselves that what executive members want to do is prudent and likely to succeed.

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