Health group warns it will take NHS to court

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A Sudbury health group is threatening legal action against NHS Suffolk over changes to the community health service.

Watch, a voluntary organisation concerned with health services in the Sudbury area, has instructed solicitors to issue legal proceedings if NHS Suffolk does not halt a consultation by Serco, the international services company.

Earlier this year, Serco won a £140million contract from NHS Suffolk to provide adult community health services and, last month, announced a 12-week consultation on planned changes.

Watch chairman Peter Clifford said NHS Suffolk had agreed to meet him and fellow members to discuss any concerns.

He said: “We believe that on this occasion, driven by cost concerns rather than the real needs of patients, NHS Suffolk has failed miserably to consult or engage with local people, merely shifting the responsibility of running services to the private sector.

“Instead, there should be proper public engagement before any decisions about changes to patient care are made.

“Within a few weeks of taking over, Serco has held a confidential, effectively secret, consultation proposing a new model of care.”

The consultation is currently with staff and unions but, as it involves major changes to patient care, Mr Clifford says it should involve the public.

He said the group was not prepared to “stand by and see Sudbury’s health services wrecked yet again” and the group had sought legal advice on the possible courses of action open to it.

Serco plans to cut 137 community healthcare posts, including 27 physiotherapists – a move that could see the number of physiotherapists in Sudbury slashed from four to two.

At Hazell Court, in Acton Lane, the company plans to introduce five-day packages of care with patients being discharged back into their homes. Watch says it will be taking this up with the Secretary for State via South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo.

Watch has been given assurances by NHS Suffolk that Sudbury’s long-awaited health centre would not be affected by changes.

“Any threat to the validity of the final business case or even to the whole project itself at this later stage would be greeted by a great deal of anger in the Sudbury community,” said Mr Clifford.

“Combined with the cuts to occupational therapist numbers, community nurses, specialist and district nurses, general health workers and physiotherapists, the end result will inevitably be a serious reduction in the quality of rehabilitation and general care of the elderly.”

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said: “We acknowledge Sudbury Watch has concerns about the staff consultation. We have written to the group and offered to meet to discuss any concerns.

“The changes Serco is consulting on are about how staff will work differently in future to deliver community services through the NHS contract.

“Service levels are not being decreased, nor are services being reduced, but they do need to be delivered more efficiently and effectively.”