Legal action threat in health cuts protest

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Campaigners will find out if their fight for public involvement on proposed community health cuts is successful in a fortnight.

Sudbury Watch, standing for Working and Acting Together for Community Health, has threatened to take legal action against NHS Suffolk because it believes a community health care consultation is not being run in the public interest.

The proposals include cutting 137 posts – including 27 physiotherapists – as well as a move to reduce rehabilitation time at Hazell Court in Sudbury so patients can be quickly discharged back into their homes.

Watch says the consultation by Serco, which won a £140million contract to manage community health services last year, should not only include staff and their unions but also the public which has a right to know what is being planned, and to have a say on the proposed changes.

Peter Clifford, chairman of Watch, said the group has sent a solicitor’s letter to NHS Suffolk giving it 14 days to stop the consultation and restart it with public involvement.

“At the moment, we feel the primary care trust and NHS Suffolk have abrogated their responsibilities to the public, and our lawyers have written a letter giving them 14 days to stop the current process and start the consultation again.

“If they do not, then it will go to a judicial review and we will go before a judge, possibly in the High Court,” he said.

Mr Clifford said a meeting between Watch and the primary care trust was being organised to take place this month, when campaigners would press the authority to change tack.

“We want it to be re-started with the public being consulted for the full 12-week consultation period,” he said.

He has written to South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and health secretary Jeremy Hunt, saying Watch is “extremely concerned” about Serco’s proposals for health care in Sudbury and the rest of Suffolk.

In a letter to the MPs, Mr Clifford stressed the importance of involving the public in the consultation for a full 12 weeks.

“The public has a right to clarity and transparency on important issues such as this one, especially in Suffolk where health care for the elderly is likely to take up more and more of community health resources both now and in the future.”

Mr Clifford said the changes proposed as part of the consultation were major and should be given to the public to comment on.

“We believe that under the terms of the NHS Act 2006, Serco’s proposals are major changes to patient care and, as such, any consultation should be held in public, not privately, with staff threatened with job loss,” he said.

“If Serco goes ahead with its proposed cuts of 137 employee posts, including frontline clinical staff, there is no way that ‘clinical staff can spend more time delivering care’.”

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said: “As yet we have not received the letter from Sudbury Watch, however, we expect to meet with members very soon to discuss their concerns.”