Minister ‘is passing buck’

A HEALTH campaigner has accused a senior Government minister of “passing the buck” after asking him for help to shelve plans for a new hospital.

Councillor Geoff Lilley appeared in the Mail last month urging people to send an email to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to block plans to spend millions of pounds on a new hospital at Wynyard through a Private Finance Iniative (PFI).

Coun Lilley, an independent councillor for the Greatham ward and vice-chairman of the Save Our Hospital campaign, had hoped if enough people forwarded their opinion regarding the hospital to Whitehall, Mr Lansley could have an influence and potentially block the plans.

But the councillor, and others who sent emails, received a reply from the Department of Health saying “it will be a matter for the local NHS to decide how to proceed from here” and “it would be difficult for the department to intervene”.

The email encourages anyone with concerns to raise them with their local NHS trust directly, and gives contact details.

Coun Lilley said the email was a “last-ditch attempt” to take action and added: “Upon his appointment in May last year, Mr Lansley said he wanted to see health decisions taken with patients.

“He can talk a good talk, but certainly can’t walk the walk.

“He had the opportunity as Secretary of State to call in the decision and to have a review.

“In reality, when people say what they want, he just passes the buck.”

Coun Lilley previously appeared in the Mail saying it will cost North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust £22m a year for 30 years to pay back the interest on the loan for the PFI, a total of £660m and twice as much as the £299m hospital.

The trust said at least £160m will be offset through the sale of some of the existing sites and leasing some of the buildings at the new hospital.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The Department is aware that there is a vigorous debate locally about the best way forward for hospital services for the people of Hartlepool and North Tees.”

She added that while it was a Government decision to withdraw funding for the £458m Wynyard hospital scheme, it was a matter for the local NHS to decide how to proceed.

A hospital trust spokeswoman said: “The new hospital is the final piece of the momentum: pathways to healthcare jigsaw which is designed to transform services by providing many more services in or close to people’s homes supported by a network of integrated care centres like One Life Hartlepool.

“There was never a question over the need for the new hospital, just how it would be paid for.

“This is why we looked at how we could reduce the amount of private money we would need to borrow without compromising the quality local people need and deserve.”