Disgust over health secretary's snub

HEALTH secretary Patricia Hewitt today flatly refused to talk to The Evening Star about Suffolk's NHS crisis.Her decision to snub yet another request for an interview was met with disgust by leading campaigners fighting to prevent cuts to the county's health service.

HEALTH secretary Patricia Hewitt today flatly refused to talk to The Evening Star about Suffolk's NHS crisis.

Her decision to snub yet another request for an interview was met with disgust by leading campaigners fighting to prevent cuts to the county's health service.

Despite being asked for an interview yet again, the Department of Health suggested the Star to send in a list of questions for Ms Hewitt.

However, having looked over the questions we were told by a spokeswoman: “The Secretary of State can't do that interview. She is not available.”

No further explanation was offered.

It is not the first time Ms Hewitt has shunned the Star, in the past we have been refused interviews with her and offered health ministers.

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And in September we received written answers to 20 questions, which avoided issues and tried to lay the blame at the feet of local health trusts.

But her intervention is now more important than ever if vital community services are to be saved, and we will not give up our fight until she acknowledges the dire mess Suffolk is in.

Bett Clayton, has been using Old Fox House clubhouse in Stowmarket - one of the under threat services - for nine years.

She said: “I want to know when Patricia Hewitt is going to wake up and realise what she is doing.

“By taking the clubhouses away, she is taking my life away.”

Michael Cox, chairman of the Friends of Kesgrave Day Hospital, said: “We actually sent a letter out to her ourselves and she was unavailable to answer personally but the Department of Health gave us a very, very generalised answer.

“The sad part is that we are a League of Friends and we are having to pack up because there is no hospital to support and it is a pretty sad day that we cannot get any answers out of our politicians when it comes to awkward questions.

“I am totally and utterly disgusted by Patricia Hewitt's attitude to us.”

Ms Hewitt may not be able to disassociate herself from the issues in Suffolk for much longer.

If the county's health scrutiny committee agree that decisions to close services in east Suffolk would have a detrimental effect on the population they can refer them to her, forcing her to intervene.

A Star investigation carried out earlier this month showed that more than half of committee members disagreed with the cuts.

What would you ask Patricia Hewitt? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Suffolk's health scrutiny and overview committee will meet next Tuesday .

The committee, which comprises of county councillors, district councillors and borough councillors could force Ms Hewitt to look again at the decisions to close service in east Suffolk.

They were also due to look at the closures of services in the west of the county but the Suffolk West PCT has delayed making a decision following the submission of a large number of letter and a petition to the Department of Health.

The meeting will be held at Endeavour House in Ipswich at 10.30am.

1) You have said: “If there are community facilities that are needed for the long term, they shouldn't be closed down due to short-term budgetary problems. We are asking primary care trusts to reconsider their decisions against the principles of this White Paper.” Community facilities are being closed in Suffolk. Will you be telling the PCTs to reconsider their decisions?

2) PCT board members and campaigners say that Suffolk East PCTs only get 90 per cent of the average health spend because of certain government criteria. Is this true? If so why is Suffolk so under-funded?

3) Suffolk Coastal PCT attributed its overspend to having carried out more hip and knee replacements, and sending more young people out of the county for specialist treatment. Was it right to treat them and incur the debt?

4) If it was right to treat them, why will the government not fund this treatment?

5) Why will the government not write-off the PCT's debts and give it a fresh start?

6) Can you explain why so many health trusts across the country are currently facing financial crises? Surely not down to bad financial management in every case?

7) How is it acceptable to have so many health trusts with such big debts? How has it been allowed to get to this stage?

8) Do you believe all the new initiatives that the government has asked trusts to implement in the past few years (eg. GPs contract, Agenda for Change, Choose and Book) have been fully funded?

9) Do you accept that it looks bad for PCTs to be claiming their only interest in making changes which save money is to improve patient care when they are so seriously in debt? Would it not be more honest for them to say “We have to make these changes to save money?”

10) What do you think morale is like among NHS staff at the moment?

11) Trusts give the impression that they have to make a choice between hitting targets and being in financial balance. Do you feel the Department of Health has created an impossible situation for them?

12) How is it acceptable to have trusts in so much debt that they are having to cut services?

13) Six years ago, Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson saved the Bartlet. Was that the right decision? Will you do the same?

14) Would you be prepared to visit the Bartlet Hospital to see why people believe it is so vital to keep it open and why more than 15,000 signed a petition delivered to the Department of Health?

15) If the Bartlet Hospital is closed, where will those patients go who cannot return home because they need convalescent care?

16) The Bartlet Hospital acts a pressure release valve for Ipswich Hospital every winter when the acute hospital is full because of seasonal bouts of illness - accepting patients to free beds at Ipswich. If it is closed, where will those patients go in future?

17) Many people with learning difficulties or mental health problems face losing their day care facilities in Suffolk because of cost cutting measures. What is your message to them and their carers?

18) How many times have you visited east Suffolk within the last two years?

19) Do you have a message for the patients who are currently facing the loss of services vital to them?

20) Are you concerned about the legacy you will be leaving when you move on from the Department of Health?

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