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Dorset A&E closure was 'unlawful'

Sam Tobin reports from the High Court

THE CLOSURE of a Dorset hospital’s A&E without establishing whether alternative care will be available is unlawful, the High Court heard yesterday.

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decided last September to make “significant changes to the configuration of health services in the Dorset area,” including axing Poole Hospital’s A&E and specialist maternity unit.

The changes mean the Poole A&E has been “downgraded” to a GP-led urgent care centre and emergency care will only be available at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, nearly eight miles away, or Dorset County Hospital, more than 20 miles distant.

Anna Hinsull, who suffers from “many serious health conditions” which mean she is “heavily dependent on safe access to emergency healthcare” at Poole Hospital, is bringing a judicial review of the decision.

Her barrister Jason Coppel QC said: “To not put a too fine a point on it, [Ms Hinsull’s] dependency is essentially a matter of life and death.”

The High Court heard that the effect of the CCG’s decision is “to cut significantly the acute care provision available in hospitals, in the hope of providing more care in the community, closer to people’s homes, and at less cost.”

Mr Coppel said the “aspiration is understandable, but the reality of the situation is highly problematic.”

Ms Hinsull alleges that the CCG took the decision to cut acute services without determining “whether or not sufficient alternative provision will be in place before the cuts are made.”

Dorset CCG “accepts that its cuts have the potential to create an enormous deficit in staffing and beds.”

But, the court heard, it “hopes that community services, particularly the social-care sector, will compensate for the cuts by overperforming, despite the fact that the social-care sector is itself in crisis.”

Mr Coppel said the CCG’s failure to base its decision on “evidence or analysis renders the decisions unlawful,” adding that the CCG failed to comply with NHS England’s “bed closure test” that requires any changes significantly reducing hospital bed numbers to be met by alternative provision.

Dorset CCG says it faces an estimated £158 million annual funding shortfall and so cannot continue to provide healthcare in the area as at present.

The hearing continues.

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