Report offers no assurances - MP

Friday, 22 December, 2006

The accident and emergency department at West Suffolk Hospital is 'extremely unlikely' to close, the Strategic Health Authority has said this week.

But MP David Ruffley said the authority had still not given the reassurances needed by thousands of staff and patients at the Bury St Edmunds hospital.

A report by the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) revealed annual attendance figures for the hospital's A&E met minimum guidelines.

The Future Technical Analysis Report, published this month, said guidelines suggested emergency departments should receive at least 40,000 visitors annually.

Figures show nearly 45,000 people used the department at West Suffolk in 2005-6.
An SHA spokeswoman said the report was the first step in an acute services review that would decide the fate of the trust's A&E department.

"We couldn't categorically say it will never close, but it looks extremely unlikely," she said.

"The figures are a good indicator that the department has a healthy catchment area and is doing enough to make it safe.

"There is no blueprint or hospital hitlist. Change is inevitable, and the SHA continues to work with local organisations to look at how best to meet the changing demands."

In 2005-6, the A&E department saw 44,506 patients, with a further 325 follow-up visits.

Bury MP Mr Ruffley, who met hospital trust chairman David Arr on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing review, said the report offered no assurances.

"We have not got a categorical denial from the SHA.," he said.

"No-one is worried they would close A&E in one go, but there are worries that cover might be reduced.

"Once you start chipping away at the service, it's the beginning of a slippery slope.

"I don't have much faith in the SHA and, when they say they don't have plans to close A&E, I think you had better start counting your spoons."

A spokeswoman for the hospital said the trust backed the comments made by the SHA and added that speculation over the hospital's future was unhelpful.