The Tory candidate in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election claims she has been kept in the dark about a report revealing options that might see the closure of Grantham A&E department permanently.
Conservative candidate standing in tomorrow’s by-election, Caroline Johnson told The Standard last night (Tuesday): “As a doctor I am very concerned by mixed reports that have come out today that Grantham A & E might close permanently.
“These reports don’t correspond to what we, as locals, have been told by the head of the local health trust who pledged that the service will be fully restored once enough doctors had been recruited.”
The A&E at Grantham Hospital has been closed temporarily at nights since the autumn to bolster staff shortages at its other hospitals in Lincoln and Boston, but health bosses have insisted that it is only short term until more staff and doctors can be recruited to make the service safe.
She added: “Should I be elected on Thursday I will use my experience as a doctor to ensure I will continue to fight for our local health services and campaign with you.”
Former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott expressed outrage on a visit to Sleaford yesterday (Tuesday) about the report revealing options to close Grantham A&E and permanently downgrade it to an urgent care centre.
Other options contained in the report leaked ahead of its official publication include the downgrading of local maternity services at Boston.
The options form a Sustainability and Transformation Plan, which will go out to public consultation.
Mr Prescott joined his Labour party candidate, Jim Clarke in delivering an open letter to the Conservative office in Sleaford Market Place demanding to know if Mrs Johnson had been kept in the loop by her Tory colleagues in government responsible for the report and questioned why Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had not informed her on his recent visit to the constituency.
Mr Prescott said: “As always, it is only Labour that you can trust with the NHS.”
Mr Clarke says in his letter to Dr Johnson, a consultant paediatrician: “I therefore call on you to publicly alert the voters to what the Tory Government intends and to admit that you were clearly wrong in the reassurances that you gave local people over the future of Grantham’s A&E.”
In a previous interview with The Standard, Dr Johnson had insisted the NHS was very close to her heart. She said: “The issues are about availability of GP appointments and closure overnight of Grantham A&E. It saved my husband’s life on two occasions and I will be actively campaigning on those issues. I can understand what has led us to these issues, but it is clear to me that Grantham is a growing town and needs an A&E service. I understand the CEO of ULHT says it is their intention to re-open it full time.”
She said she would be against any downgrading of services, while understanding the Sustainability and Transformation Plan was designed to work out what is the safest way to medically manage the health service locally.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust had stated in November there is a national shortage of A&E doctors and along with other trusts.
The Trust said it has been working hard to recruit locums, agency staff and permanent staff and had offered jobs to nine doctors and two more long term locum registrars to Lincoln A&E but these were all taking time to process.
ULHT said it has the funding for 15 consultants and 28 registrars to cover rotas 24/7 in three A&Es. At the beginning of November they were down to 14 consultants, of whom 10 were locums, and just 17.6 registrars. These numbers were well below the agreed minimum number of doctors needed to reopen Grantham.
Dr Suneil Kapadia, medical director at ULHT said: “Along with Grantham people, ULHT wants to reopen Grantham A&E. But we won’t do this until it is safe to do so.
“The reality is the service remains fragile and sustaining staffing rotas in the three A&Es is difficult.
“We recognise the closure is causing worry and stress to local people as a local service is important to the community.”
○ The full list of 10 candidates standing in the by-election are: Victoria Ayling (UKIP), David Bishop (Bus Pass Elvis Party), Jim Clarke (Labour), Paul Coyne (Non aligned), Peter E Hill - aka The Iconic Arty Pole (Monster Raving Loony Party), Caroline Johnson (Conservative), Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independent), Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrat), Sarah Stock (Independent), Mark Suffield (Independent).