Heart care champions gagged

PATIENT champions who fought for the best possible heart attack care in Suffolk will be gagged during a key debate today.Two elected councillors will be barred from taking part in the Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee (HSC) discussion about emergency heart care, despite being members of the committee - because they have already stated their opinion as part of The Evening Star's campaign.

PATIENT champions who fought for the best possible heart attack care in Suffolk will be gagged during a key debate today.

Two elected councillors will be barred from taking part in the Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee (HSC) discussion about emergency heart care, despite being members of the committee - because they have already stated their opinion as part of The Evening Star's campaign.

The HSC is due to meet today to listen to heart tsar Professor Roger Boyle to discuss controversial plans to treat emergency heart attack patients outside Suffolk.

But when members vote on what action to take, which could eventually include referring the decision to the secretary of state for health, Michelle Bevan-Margetts and Judy Terry will be forced to abstain.

The pair have fallen foul of complicated local government “predetermination” rules because they spoke up for their constituents and battled against the plans, which had originally been due to come into force on June 1, long before the HSC's meeting.

Ipswich Borough councillor Mrs Bevan-Margetts, said: “It is because they say we have already made up our minds.

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“But I don't regret what I did because I would have rather stuck up for the electorate than had a vote.

“There was even a debate about whether I should be allowed to stay on the HSC.

“If the HSC had discussed heart attacks earlier, as we should have done if we had been told about it, I wouldn't have had to stand up and fight and I wouldn't be in this situation.”

Meanwhile Mrs Terry, who is on both Ipswich Borough and Suffolk County councils, said: “It's down to the fact that I wrote a letter to The Evening Star and I was quite forceful in my views, and that was construed as predetermination.

“I felt very strongly about health issues and so I put my head above the parapet and as a result this has happened.

“I was surprised and very disappointed when I found out but I have to obey the rules. It means when you sit on a committee you have to be very cautious about what you say in public.”

Ann Hunter, part of Suffolk County Council's scrutiny and monitoring team, said: “There is clear case law that when councillors take part in debate and vote and there is evidence of bias or predetermination it risks the decision of the committee being open to challenge by a judicial review and the decision being invalidated.”

Should the councilors be allowed to take part in the debate? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Today's Health Scrutiny Committee meeting

Suffolk's Health Scrutiny Committee (HSC) is made up of elected representatives from Suffolk County Council and all the district councils in Suffolk.

Its role is to analyse health policy which impacts on Suffolk.

If it has concerns about changes it can comment back to health bodies or, ultimately, refer a decision to the secretary of state for health.

Last year the body controversially gave its backing to plans to scrap head and neck cancer from Ipswich Hospital, but warned it was concerned about the future of the hospital.

At today's public meeting at Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House from 2pm the committee will discuss, among other things, emergency heart attack care.

The heart tsar, Professor Roger Boyle, will present the findings of his review into the proposals to set up specialised heart attack centres in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, and not Suffolk, where all emergency patients would be treated.