Health chiefs of the East and North Herts NHS Trust and the E and N Herts Clinic Commissioning Group (representing GPs) have blasted the plans put forward by the ruling Conservative group on the county council to slash support for evening and Sunday buses.
In a strongly worded letter to the county council, they point out:
- Many patients would not be able to access the later appointments increasingly being offered (78 surgeries already offer appointments after the planned 6.30 cut-off)
- The council and the NHS are working together to use the government's Better Care Fund, a requirement of which is that there is 7 day working.
- Referring to Lister hospital, they say 'In a move which has been planned in conjunction with the county council since 2007, inpatient services completely closed at the QEII hospital in Welwyn Garden City at the beginning of this month. Frequent, reliable bus services between these areas are therefore more important than ever. All patients from Welwyn and Hatfield and surrounding areas who need an overnight stay in hospital in the east and north of Hertfordshire are now referred to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage and visiting hours take place after 6.30pm and at weekends.' They also point out that staff need to get to and from Lister at all times.
They also say "In particular, we are extremely concerned about the threat to the 300 and 301 services to and from the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, which provide a vital connection to and from the QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City."
They conclude 'Our growing elderly population, the centralisation of specialist services and the extension of core working hours are all increasing the need for a more efficient (not reduced) bus service in Hertfordshire. '
County Councillor Malcolm Cowan (Handside and Peartree) said "This is powerful support for our case that services should not be cut. We all know and accept that the money needs to come from somewhere but perhaps the county council should be looking closer to home at its bloated Media and Press department rather than at community services.
"In Welwyn Hatfield, the area I represent on HCC, over 20 percent of households don't have a car. Since the QEII closed to surgery some years ago, all of our inpatient beds are located at the Lister in Stevenage. The proposed bus service cuts will mean no evening visiting of relatives in hospital for 1 in 5 of the local people in my area, something I find unacceptable.
"The Liberal Democrats on HCC are very concerned about these proposals and we think they are an area which should not be cut further. The Council should look at the glossy publications it produces in vast quantities and cut some of them, rather than the lifeline to services these buses are to many people"