A new analysis of local plans shows that hospital services in nearly two-thirds of England could be cut or scaled back.
The NHS England blueprint aims to save money across 44 different areas, but BBC researchers found that 28 affect hospital care, from full closures to centralising services, such as A&E and stroke care, on fewer sites.
The proposals also include the creation of ‘super’ community hubs of GPs, care workers and district nurses, seven-day access to GPs and getting hospital specialists to run clinics in the community.
The analysis found: plans to reduce the number of major hospital sites in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland from three to two; in the Black Country plans to reduce the overall number of major hospitals by one; maternity and children’s services being “centralised” onto one site in Lincolnshire; a warning in West Yorkshire and Harrogate that having five hyper-acute stroke services may “no longer be viable”.
It also found: the downgrading of two out of three A&Es in Mid and South Essex, with only one retaining specialist emergency care; in South West London, proposals to reduce the number of major hospitals from five to four; plans in Nottinghamshire to downsize City Hospital (pictured) and reduce beds across Nottingham by 200; and in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, consideration being given to centralising specialised orthopaedic trauma services at two local hospitals.
Overall, a third of the 44 plans look to reduce the number of hospitals providing emergency care, while in another third of areas they have said they will consider moving non-emergency care to fewer sites.
The King’s Fund think tank, which has also carried out a review of the plans, warned that a lack of investment meant the ideas being put forward were not always credible. It warned that community services in many areas were already “feeling the strain” and could not cope with an increase in workload. And it said further reductions in the number of hospital beds could destabilise services that were already “stretched to their limits” following the difficult winter.
Prof Chris Ham, the think tank’s chief executive, said they were still the “best hope of delivering essential reforms” in the NHS, as care needed to be moved out of hospital.
The proposals – known as sustainability and transformation plans – have been drawn up as part of NHS England’s five-year strategy to release £22bn of efficiency savings by 2020. Reviews were set up in early 2016 and consultations on major changes will take place later this year with the hope that implementation will follow soon after. A £1.8bn pot set aside this year for funding transformation has been used to shore up NHS trust finances as they struggle to balance
A Department of Health spokesman maintained that the extra money being invested in the NHS this Parliament still gave the health service enough funds to change the way it worked.