Campaigners in Wantage have promised to do all they can to protect vital local health services after swingeing cuts to the Oxfordshire NHS were leaked last week.
In a document released by Reading Borough Council, it was revealed that the secretive ‘sustainability and transformation plan’ (STP) predicts a deficit of £479m by 2020 across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and West Berkshire (BOB).
And it is Oxfordshire services that are most at risk, with the county set for a £247m deficit across its four agencies, including Oxford University Hospitals Trust (£119m), Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (£89m), Oxford Health Trust (£27m) and South Central Ambulance Service (£12m).
The cuts could result in a reduction in the number of qualified nurses, with them being substituted by healthcare assistants, a cutback in the number of beds in hospitals and could give ‘new roles’ to community hospitals across the county.
Residents from across the county staged a protest at the Oxfordshire County Council’s offices on Thursday last week to voice their displeasure over the secrecy of the proposed cuts.
Earlier this year, Wantage residents picked up placards to protest the closure of parts of Wantage Community
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Hospital. The protest, organised by Save Wantage Hospital Campaign group, delivered a letter to the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust in June calling for the hospital to stay fully open.
In April, the trust had announced that the hospital would close because of a risk of Legionella bacteria in the water system and did not give a date for when it might reopen.
But county, Vale and town councillor for Wantage, Jenny Hannaby, said she would personally do all she could to fight the cuts locally.
Cllr Hannaby, also a member of Wantage Hospital League of Friends, said the crippling cuts would have “dire consequences” for people using the services, especially the elderly and the vulnerable, across the county and in Wantage.
She added: “We [the campaign group] are doing all we can to keep Wantage hospital open. It is [a big blow for Wantage Community Hospital] and we hope that we will be able to stop this STP for further consultations.”
Wantage MP Ed Vaizey has hit out at health bosses’ decision to postpone a consultation on community hospitals, which will affect the future of Wantage’s hospital, until May 2017 as ‘closure by stealth’.
Chairman of the Wantage and Grove Campaign, Julie Mabberley, backs Mr Vaizey’s opinion and said she feared that “if they get their way, Wantage hospital will close”.
She added: “If anything happens to any of the hospitals, there is no contingency any more.”
Cllr Hannaby, who said she is ‘very disappointed’ and ‘very let down’ by the delay in the consultation, added: “We’ve got to fight for the hospital – the hospital is in danger and, when the consultation comes out, we must make sure that everyone in the town fills in the consultation.
“When it does arrive, it is essential that they fill it in.”
Protesters from across Oxfordshire will hold a ‘funeral procession’ on Saturday from Manzil Way, Oxford to Carfax Tower at 1pm.
Ms Mabberley said: “There are two big issues; one is Oxfordshire and the funding for Oxfordshire, but on a wider basis we spend less on our health service than any of the other countries in Europe except for Iceland [as a percentage of GDP].
“What is going on? How do they expect the health service to be able to provide a service without funding it properly?”
The UK spends below the EU average on healthcare per GDP. To bring it up to the average, the NHS would need to undergo a £43bn investment.
Health officials had planned to delay publishing the document until January but Reading Borough Council leaked the document due to ‘serious concerns’ about the transparency of the document which has been drawn up by the NHS for the BOB area.