PLANS for a new £29m cancer unit at Dewsbury Hospital were ditched earlier this year because of lack of funds. The future of the cash-strapped hospital is a key issue in the coming election, with some candidates claiming it could be closed. BARRY GIBSON investigates.
CLR Khizar Iqbal’s political rivals are queueing up to accuse him of scaremongering.
But the Thornhill Lees man – who is running as an independent candidate for the Dewsbury seat – is adamant that he has been proved right before.
Clr Iqbal was correct when he predicted that Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust’s ambitious plans for a £29m bowel cancer unit at Dewsbury Hospital would come to nothing.
So when he says there’s a serious threat to the future of the hospital, he believes people should listen.
Clr Iqbal said: “Based on my information, I think there is a serious risk to Dewsbury Hospital. Mid-Yorkshire Trust needs to make savings of £75m. Dewsbury Hospital is already £77m in debt, so they must be seriously considering closing the hospital.
“I challenged the trust to come up with a business plan for the cancer unit. When they failed to do so, I knew it wasn’t going to happen.
“A few weeks later the plan was dropped. I was accused of scaremongering, but I was vindicated.”
Clr Iqbal, who represents Dewsbury South on Kirklees Council, has collected 5,000 signatures in the last five months for a petition against closing the hospital.
But his political opponents don’t believe the future of the hospital is in doubt.
Conservative Simon Reevell said: “There were very ambitious plans for a cancer unit on the site which shows the trust is planning on keeping the hospital on the site.
“The PCT have said they don’t think they’ll be able to fund the cancer unit, but that’s not the same as saying they don’t have long-term plans to run Dewsbury Hospital.”
Shahid Malik, who is defending the seat for Labour, goes further.
“I’m very pleased that the hospital is secure in the long-term,” he said. “I’m angry and disappointed at some of the things being thrown around about the hospital closing. It’s dishonest politics.”
Mr Malik also criticised the Lib Dems, who have collected signatures for a petition calling for services to be kept at the hospital.
He said: “They do these petitions every year before the election. I think it’s despicable they’re frightening vulnerable people.”
But Lib Dem candidate Andrew Hutchinson believes Dewsbury Hospital is losing out to the other two sites run by the Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
“I’m concerned about services being taken away to Pontefract and Pinderfields in Wakefield,’’ he said. “We’ve got services there that may or may not be under threat and we want a commitment they won’t be taken away.
“We also want a pledge there will be future investment in the hospital to improve services.”
Clr Roger Roberts from the BNP believes Clr Iqbal and the Lib Dems are scaremongering.
“I’m rather disappointed that the independent and another party are trying to frighten people about the changes,’’ he said.
“We’ve lost some services but the essential services like accident and emergency are still there. I’m not happy about the hospital losing any service but you have to be realistic. You can’t have every service at every hospital.”
Green candidate Adrian Cruden said his party would protect Dewsbury Hospital by giving councils control of health spending.
“We want hospitals to be under local authority control so that there was democratic accountability,’’ he said.
“As long as we have this current structure, which is not transparent, we will have these questions about loss of services.”
Michael Felse, English Democrat candidate for Dewsbury, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Julia Squire, chief executive of Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said yesterday there were no plans to close Dewsbury Hospital.
She said: “For at least the past five years, false rumours have circulated the district claiming there are plans to close the local hospital.
“Every year we try to quash the rumour once and for all. But unfortunately, despite any ounce of truth in them, the rumours are still circulated and this creates a huge amount of unnecessary anxiety for local people and staff.
“Our message to local people could not be clearer. There are absolutely no plans whatsoever to close Dewsbury and District Hospital.
“Dewsbury and District Hospital has an extremely bright future and we will continue to work hard to give our patients the best service possible in the best possible environment.”