Oliver Price | News Manager
When asked if it were possible, in 2010, to add extra money to fund a fully functioning A&E service at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, Grant Shapps, the Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield, told Trident media: “In 2010 we were elected on a platform of austerity,” and that a hypothetical fully funded A&E service would be a “white elephant.”
Grant Shapps has, for many years, publicly campaigned to keep Accident & Emergency care at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn Garden City. Before the 2010 general election, Shapps promised a moratorium on plans to downgrade or close the A&E at the QEII.
The Accident & Emergency Centre at the QEII was closed and replaced with an Urgent Care Centre in the Autumn of 2014. The Urgent Care Centre still treats the majority of cases that the full A&E would have, but no longer treats life or limb threatening injuries such as heart attacks.
The apparent effect of this downgrade has been well documented by Trident Media, with the most recent data showing that the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, now the closest full A&E service to Hatfield, is performing well below government targets for the amount of patients seen or treated within four hours.
When the A&E was downgraded, Shapps called the decision by East & North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and the Clinical Commissioning Group a “betrayal of local people.”
When asked if he still believed it to be a betrayal Shapps said;
“Yes, absolutely, and I think it still needs reversing.”
The “seven point agreement” was drawn up after the 2010 General Election between EN Herts NHS Trust, Shapps, and Andrew Lansley, the then Conservative Health Secretary.
Point two of this agreement states that:
“The New QEII will provide integrated emergency care for the vast majority of patients currently using such services at the QEII; through the provision of a local A&E at the new hospital.”
While on the surface it does appear that the local NHS trust did break their pledge, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust disagree with this as, “The only difference between the local A&E service and the current urgent care centre service is the name.”
East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group have told Trident Media that the reason for the change in nomenclature was, “in line with the guidance,” from an NHS England report in 2013.
“After consultation with local GPs, a decision was taken by Hertfordshire GPs to name the service an ‘Urgent Care Centre’ rather than a ‘local A&E’, to avoid any confusion which could present a danger to patients’ safety.”
However, when confronted with this information, Shapps doubled down, saying:
“Since the point on the agreement was literally the name, then that is the betrayal and it’s just confused people unnecessarily.”
Shapps criticised up to ten hour waiting times at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage: “Either the balance isn’t right and too few people are presenting at the QEII Urgent Care Centre because we’re getting ten hour queues at the Lister; or there just isn’t enough capacity overall. One of those two things, or both of them must be true.
“We only have two A&Es in the whole of Hertfordshire, a county of 1.2 million people, with just two full A&Es, and to my mind, that’s just not enough.”
However, evidence shows that Grant Shapps did agree to reductions in services in 2010 meetings with the NHS Trust. In a letter sent to Andrew Lansley and Simon Burns in August 2010, before the publishing of the seven point agreement, Shapps told the then Health Secretary:
“There is agreement that an A&E at a rebuilt QE2 Hospital could still handle perhaps 80% of the current workload and that it would [sic] helpful (and less confusing) to continue to refer to it as an A&E.”
This letter was sent before the publication of the seven point agreement. There is a note on the email which says, “we are working on nomenclature.”
When asked if he had agreed to a reduction in A&E service in 2010, Shapps said the decision had, “already been made, millions of pounds had been spent up at the Lister and at that point I was saying well that’s already happened, I can’t turn back the clock, but let’s have something called a local A&E.”
Watch the full interview with Grant Shapps below
Labour Welwyn Hatfield Borough Councillor, John Fitzpatrick said he was “confused” by Shapps’ remarks in the interview. “I’m surprised he hadn’t mentioned that the Conservative County Council has always had a say in what went on here and yet they decided not to refer [the downgrading of the QEII A&E] to the Secretary of State. That was always an option and they never took it.
Fitzpatrick criticised Shapps saying:
“He needs to get his story straight.
“I’m very confused by his, what I would call his selective memory in how he has been involved in this process. He did make very strong promises to people to turn this decision around and have it properly rethought, and increased his majority because of that, and yet now he’s claiming he didn’t have enough input. Even when he was part of the government he didn’t have enough input into this. What position do you have to be in to have enough input?”
He claimed that Shapps’ history of the QEII was “airbrushed” because “he said in the interview that [the Conservatives] were elected on an austerity ticket. If they weren’t going to make cuts to the NHS then surely they should’ve revisited this properly and not just make promises locally to