Friday, February 02, 2007

CATS proposals criticised at public meeting

Government proposals for CATS centres in Cumbria were given a rough ride by hundreds of local residents in Whitehaven this evening at a public meeting - and by the NHS officials who were there to explain them.

The CATS proposals - this stands for "Clinical Assessment, Treatment, and Support" - would involve a number of diagnostic assessment and treatment centres which are part of and paid for by the NHS but also involve the private sector. The initial proposals are based on a standard national contract.

A major consultaion is underway about these proposals: the Department of Health appears to have laid down that they are committed to the principle of CATS but that the consultation can cover where the CATS centres should be and what services are in them. The Cumbria proposals on the table involve CATS centres at Carlisle, Workington, and Ulverston.

The British Medical Association has expressed concern that the CATS policy might have serious knock-on consequences for hospital services by taking services and away from hospitals. It rapidly became apparent this evening that most of the people who are carrying out the consultation are largely in sympathy with those concerns.

Marie Burnham, Chief Executive of the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals Trust said that her initial reaction to the proposals was that they would mean the loss of one of her hospitals. She said that the CATS centres as initially proposed would cost about £35 million a year to run: West Cumberland Hospital costs about £60 million. Later in the meeting she waved the consultation document and said "We don't want CATS as specified in this document, it would decimate hospitals."

She added, however, that a modified version of the CATS proposals might avoid these problems and have benefits for patients: both Marie Burnham and Sue Page said they were committed to finding a form of CATS which did not harm existing hospitals - they appeared to be suggesting this might involve and arrangements in which the CATS handled mainly those services where it may be difficult to provide them to an adequate standard from the acute hospitals.

The audience made it crystal clear that their first priority was the need to protect acute hospital services in West Cumbria, and that they are very concerned about the future of our hospitals. Speaker after speaker made clear that they saw CATS as at best irrelevant and at worst a threat to our hospitals.

This debate is going to run and run: if you care about your NHS, please make sure you take part in the debate and send in your comments.


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