Labour councillors and other campaigners are appalled at the decision by health administrators to bring in unpopular hospital merger plans in south Essex without waiting for proper scrutiny.

Last week, executives at the Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) announced they would be pushing ahead with then first stage of plans, despite Southend and Thurrock Councils referring them to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock for scrutiny and a decision before implementation. The proposals include transferring patients across Essex to ‘hubs’ for different conditions at Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals, which the STP claims would see improvements in vascular, urological, orthopaedic and trauma care but many doctors and other clinicial staff dispute there would be any clinical benefits and there are also concerns over transport arrangements.

Southend Labour councillors and other campaigners have criticised STP Chief Executive Claire Panniker for ignoring the scrutiny of the Secretary of State for Health. Matt Dent, Southend Labour councillor and advocate for the plan’s referral, said: “As we unanimously agreed to refer the plans to the Health Secretary because they were not in the best interest of the borough, it is extremely disappointing that at the same time as they are being reviewed, the STP are moving forward with them.”

Clare Panniker is going ahead regardless and it is making a mockery of the democratic process if she is not going to wait for the decision. This process is there for a reason and it is still ongoing.” The Health Secretary has asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to give initial advice on the changes. Campaigners against the plans say that to proceed before even that initial advice has been seen is to ignore the proper process and expressed public opinion. Labour’s Councillor Dent added: “I would hope the panel will look at our referral in detail and return a decision that will be in the interest of healthcare in Southend.”

Mike Fieldhouse, Secretary of the Save Southend NHS campaign group, said the decision was disappointing, adding: “The audacity and arrogance of the board in continuing with their changes to services while still under review is astounding. In spite of two councils referring the STP’s plans to the Health Secretary following serious concerns being raised, NHS management have pre-empted the outcome of these investigations and decided that they know best.” Such a disregard for the agreed process must surely bring into question Ms Panniker and the board’s suitability to run our NHS services.”

The fact that Ms Panniker believes she can ride roughshod over democracy clearly demonstrates the contempt in which she holds the people she is supposed to be serving.” Southend Councillors are meeting Ms Panniker and other leaders of the STP to discuss these premature steps and have deep concerns that once the process has started it will prove difficult to reverse it, despite health bosses’ assurances.

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