CUTS proposed for Bridport Community Hospital have been given the go-ahead after councillors decided that they wouldn’t have a substantial impact.
The measures are set to come into force in July after members of the Dorset County Council Health and Scrutiny committee gave health chiefs the green light – although they demanded a report into transport provision at the end of 12 months.
But the Community Health Campaign (CHC), which has opposed the moves backed by a 11,000-strong petition and its own survey, vowed to carry on the fight and try and force a judicial review.
Spokesman Coun Ros Kayes said: “We are considering the possibility of a judicial review.
“Our survey proves that the there is already a problem and it will just get worse if this goes ahead.”
Members of the CHC pleaded to the committee – especially about the cost and difficulty of transport to and from the Dorset County Hospital.
They warned that figures from GPs showed that 581 new appointments and nearly 1,500 follow-up appointments would be lost as a result of the changes.
But health chiefs, including John Morton, who is director of joint commissioning and partnerships for NHS Dorset, insisted that the figure was much less as many outpatients clinics were underused or appointments were cancelled.
There will be a reduction of 334 outpatient appointments – including new and follow up appointments.
These relate to orthotics, consultant colorectal clinics and nurse-led irritable bowel syndrome clinics.
Theatre usage will drop from three to two days with a review after a year.
Health chiefs say that there will be sufficient paediatric, nurse-led respiratory and nurse-led urology clinics to meet patient demand.
Campaigners cited their own survey in which they showed the impact of cost and time to get from Bridport to Dorchester and back – particularly for the elderly and vulnerable.
Eileen Harding, of Bridport, said: “Policymakers should be aware that they too will be old one day.
“They may be able to afford the best private care but money cannot protect them from changes in the attitudes that are taking place in our world.”
Committee chairman Ron Coatsworth said that the changes were not as severe as first feared.
Committee member Coun Mike Lovell said: “I am still concerned about this whole thing.
“It could be the thin end of the wedge.”
Coun David Jones said: “Somebody has to decide where the resources go.
“We are looking at very unpleasant and very unpleasant decisions.”
He suggested a report in 12 months time to see how transport provision was working.
Coun Gillian Summers said that the changes did not represent a substantial variation of service and that moves were afoot to deal with the transport issue.
The committee was told that Dorset County Council was intending to appoint a co-ordinator for its voluntary transport service and that there were volunteer groups who could help with patient transport.
Campaigners are considering applying for a judicial review of the process at the High Court in London, although they would need to raise money to pay for legal representation.
It would challenge the way the decision was reached and force the committee to look again.
The CHC said that action was possible as the committee had not considered the impact of the changes on vulnerable groups.
A statement from the CHC said: “Voluntary, temporarily funded transport, which many patients will not even be eligible to use, is not an adequate replacement for local provision of services.
“It's an insult.
“We will not give up this campaign.”
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HEALTH CHIEFS WELCOME CHANGES
A spokesperson for NHS Dorset said: “Whilst we welcome the decision of the committee, we understand that communities are passionate about local healthcare.
“We would like to take the opportunity to reiterate that no community hospitals will close as a result of the proposed changes. “During the recent public engagement events transport was raised as a key concern for local residents.
“As a result of this, we are now investing in the local infrastructure of community transport organisations to help develop local schemes over the next 12 months. All organisations involved in this review are committed to increasing the amount of high quality, local care provided in or close to the homes of local residents.
“This is reflected in the additional £3.7m NHS Dorset has already invested in this area and the further £1.1m investment that will be made in this financial year”.
Members of the CHC were concerned that in surgery general anaesthetic would be loss but health chiefs said that it would be a matter for individual clinicians and was not part of the process.