Fears are growing over potential cuts to services at three Midland hospitals after an extensive review was launched to make them more “efficient”.
Birmingham’s largest NHS trust, Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, is reviewing what services each of its hospitals should be carrying out in the long term.
A consultation with doctors across Solihull, Heartlands and Sutton Coldfield’s Good Hope hospitals is under way.
But there is concern the move could lead to services merged across the three sites or even downgraded, with managers saying each site is looking at excelling in specific areas.
Far-reaching discussions will take place over the summer and autumn with firmer plans to be put to the public at the start of next year.
A partnership board has already been set up in Solihull between the hospital, local GPs and council to look at long term plans. Similar groups are expected to surface for Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham concerning the other two hospitals.
It comes a year after Solihull maternity wards were downgraded from a full working unit into a midwife-only one on safety grounds.
All pregnant women expecting or having complicated births are now transferred out of the borough to Heartlands or Good Hope hospitals.
A focus on elderly care, long term respiratory conditions and reducing bed-blocking problems are the main topics in Solihull.
Maggie Throup, a Solihull health campaigner, said: “Such a move is just what we feared when Solihull’s maternity services were changed. The many residents of Solihull don’t want to have to wait until either they are elderly or have respiratory problems to be able to use their own local hospital.
“Our local hospital should be just that, a facility to serve the local people, whether it’s for an outpatient appointment or an in-stay for a wide range of illnesses.
“The trust management must listen to the wishes and the needs of Silhillians and stop making decisions based on money.
“They need to receive the message loud and clear that Heartlands or Good Hope Hospital are not viable alternatives for us for the majority of our hospital needs.
“The Facebook Group ‘Save Solihull Hospital’ set up in 2009 attracted over 4,000 members which shows the strength of feeling about this issue. I’m sure support to save our local hospital will continue to grow now we have this new threat.”
Claire Malloy, manager of Solihull Hospital, said: “It is very early days but the talks are about the future clinical strategy of services across the three hospitals in three to five years time.
“From the Solihull Hospital end of things, as much as possible, we want to keep as large and diverse a range of services as possible locally and that is the same for Good Hope.
“We would like to see each site develop an identity with ‘beacon’ services that they are really good at. Maybe Solihull could be an exemplar of care of the elderly.”
She added: “It is about being more efficient and saving money but also for Solihull to have a stronger voice in the trust’s plans and how we make the most of providing hospital and community services and develop care to be more interactive and personable while making the best use of our resources.
“There are no concrete options at this point.”
Trust chief executive Dr Mark Newbold has made pledges in the past year to keep local services at each of the hospitals.
Dr Newbold is faced with saving £6.2million in the current financial year but in July, the trust was predicting to not meet £4.9million of this target after overspending on mainly emergency medicine and inpatient care.
A Heart of England Trust spokeswoman said: “With safety at the heart of everything we do, our clinicians are in the very early stages of discussing how we can improve services across all off our hospitals.
“The partnership approach we are taking in Solihull is a new model of integrated working which involves partner organisations and the community working together to ensure the best decisions are made locally around Solihull Hospital.
“This new way of working is in its infancy and as plans develop similar approaches will be looked at around our other sites.
“The trust aims to provide local services that our communities can have confidence, trust, and pride in.”