The sorry saga of Grantham A&E is nothing short of a scandal. That it should remain closed at night two and half years after a “temporary” closure was introduced because of staff shortages is a source of great shame for me as the local MP and supporter of the Conservative government. I won’t even try to justify it. I used to believe that a systematic campaign of public protest and private lobbying would be enough to make the NHS restore Grantham A&E to what it was. But we have done it all: local residents and councillors have been on protest marches, signed petitions, attended countless vigils. I have held private meetings with the Prime Minister, two Secretaries of State for Health, several other Ministers of Health, the chief executive of NHS England and innumerable officials from other NHS quangos. All to no avail. Grantham A&E remains stubbornly closed at night.
So it was with a heavy heart, and very low expectations, that I agreed to meet with local NHS leaders to hear about the plans for Grantham Hospital that will be discussed as part of the Healthy Conversation launched earlier this week. But I feel I should give them some credit. For the first time that I can remember, plans for the health service in Lincolnshire have been drawn up by senior doctors and nurses – and not just imposed on us by the bureaucratic machine. These medical practitioners think Grantham Hospital ought to become the centre of excellence for elective orthopaedics and general surgery in the county – this would lead to a big increase in the overall level of activity on the Grantham site. They also recommend the restoration of a 24/7 service for people who need urgent care. Now it wouldn’t be a full blown A&E department and that is a big disappointment. But Grantham GP and chair of the local commissioning group Dave Baker tells me that modern standards of emergency medicine mean that an Urgent Treatment Centre run by the community health trust is the only kind of 24/7 service that we have any chance of getting back at Grantham Hospital. Dave always has the interests of his patients, and my constituents, at heart so I think I should take him at his word.
This is a start of a long process. Much could change as a result of the conversation that is going to take place across the county. Grantham residents will have lots of opportunities to challenge the proposals and contribute their own ideas. But if this plan offers the possibility of people being able to receive treatment at our local hospital when they have an accident in the middle of the night, I, for one, am inclined to support it.