United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust is planning to close nuclear imaging used for bone and heart scans in Grantham, and possibly Boston too, with one centre remaining in Lincoln.
However, during Lincolnshire County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday councillors called the proposals the “most predetermined consultation ever” and said Grantham residents were “aghast” that their hospital wasn’t included in any plans.
One councillor warned that with rising costs elsewhere, patients may be forced to choose between attending a hospital appointment, food or energy bills.
According to the trust, the service like many others, has long faced challenges around staffing, ageing equipment and sustainability. and has been deemed unsustainable in its current format.
The following two options have been developed by hospital clinicians, and shaped by patient representatives:
Option 1 – centralisation of the service at Lincoln County Hospital
Option 2 – centralisation of the service at two sites – Lincoln County Hospital and Boston Pilgrim
Grantham Councillor Linda Wooten said: “The people of Grantham, Grantham councillors and campaign groups are aghast because they see what you’re proposing on the two options – we’ve been totally eliminated, we’ve not even got off the starting blocks.”
Her husband Councillor Ray Wooten added: “It’s like the acute services review at Grantham Hospital all over again. Nowhere in these options is there one to stay as you are.”
He said campaigners were still against any reduction in services at the hospital.
Councillor Mark Allen said “The way this is being presented to the public, to me honestly is a foregone conclusion.”
He said it was “not surprising that you come up with the answer that you want – one site”.
He acknowledged the potential savings and said the same argument could be applied to all specialisms.
However, he warned if that happened: “You put an awful lot of pressure on that one location and if that starts going wrong, there can be great ramifications from it.”
He pointed to a lack of car parking spaces at Lincoln County Hospital, and said using centralisation to solve staffing shortages was a “sticking plaster”.
In response to one comment on the costs of replacing equipment, Laura White, head of nuclear medicine at ULHT, suggested taxes could go up, however, Councillor Tom Smith pointed out National Insurance had already risen.
“That’s what NI is supposed to pay for, and now residents are being burdened with fuel going up,” he said.
“It will come to a point where a resident will question ‘can I actually afford to get to this appointment because… it’s a case of I fill the car up or I have food or heating?'”
Committee chairman Carl Macey said: “This is probably the most predetermined consultation I ever came across. It’s incredibly disappointing that is the case.”
Nuclear medicine services are used by 2,500 patients per year in Lincolnshire for up to 20 types of specialist tests, from Parkinson’s disease to delayed gastric emptying.
Bosses at ULHT say the measures will cut costs by allowing the solutions needed to carry out scans to be done in bulk.
They hope having everything in one place will increase opportunities to attract, train and retain staff while reducing the number of cancelled appointments.
It will also increase space elsewhere to expand busier services such as cardiology, they said.
Laura told councillors that considering the challenges the trust faces: “It’s not sustainable to continue the service on three sites.”
“The main benefit for centralising at Lincoln is the efficiency of the service. It should also improve governance.”
She acknowledged the risk of the requirement for patients to travel more and the lack of infrastructure such as a main motorway through the county.
“I think the service will be better rationalising it and responsibility is to provide the best service for patients,” she said.
“Somebody higher than me or different than me needs to sort out the infrastructure for me.”
A 12-week public consultation on the plans is running until Monday, May 23, 2022.
Councillors were told that so far around 600 people had responded in the first couple of weeks. However a recent virtual consultation event saw no attendees.