A council committee member fears Huddersfield could be left with a “Third World” health service.
The comment, from Prof Peter Bradshaw, a former health advisor to the Thatcher government, came amid a probe into hospital chiefs’ bid to move cardiology and respiratory wards from Huddersfield to Halifax.
Members of Kirklees Council’s Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Panel grilled the consultant doctors and executives behind the controversial plan.
Hospital campaigners have said they believe the ward relocations are the first step in moving Huddersfield Royal Infirmary’s services to Calderdale Royal Hospital by stealth.
But Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHFT) has denied it and said the moves are urgent to provide safer care heading into winter.
The trust caused uproar when it provided case studies that claimed some patients had died because resources were spread too thinly between Huddersfield and Halifax.
In one case it said a patient at Huddersfield hadn’t survived because staff weren’t familiar with specialist equipment that was more commonly used at Calderdale.
At the council meeting, Clr Sheikh Ullah told the hospital team that the perception was the ward moves had “come at the wrong time.”
Panel member Prof Bradshaw, speaking at the meeting, said he took the point that the clinical grounds for the ward moves were “incontrovertible” but he said the Huddersfield public still felt it was unfair.
“This is perceived among the general public as further inequity for Huddersfield,” he said.
“We’ve got an aspiring Russell Group university and a Premier League football team, but a Third World health service.
“How are you going to sell it to them?”
Chair of the panel, Clr Liz Smaje, said: “We want to make sure this is not the tip of a larger iceberg.
“We recognise the changes are for quality and safety but we want to be assured that it’s not just the start of trying to push through larger changes by incremental steps.
“We would be really concerned if this was doing that.”
Responding to Prof Bradshaw’s comment that the changes were unfair on Huddersfield, clinical director for the trust, Rob Moisey, said he thought the opposite.
And he revealed that while the wards were moving there would still be cardiology and respiratory specialists at HRI.
“I don’t see it as an inequity,” he said.
“I see it as a patients from Huddersfield benefiting from enhanced service and specialist assessments at the front door.
“Currently, if you come in on a Saturday you won’t get the same assessments as you would on a Monday.
“What this allows us, is the opportunity to ensure equity across seven days.”
Catherine Riley, CHFT’s assistant director of strategic planning, told the panel they had already vowed, on the record, that the moves were not part of their wider reconfiguration ambitions.
The hospital trust’s chief operating officer, Helen Barker, said they needed to fast-track the ward moves to consolidate specialist care on single sites amid a shortage of staff.
She said extra nurses they had hoped for from overseas hadn’t arrived in time for the difficult winter months.
She said: “Eighty-five Filipino nurses were recruited but because of the hoops they’ve got to jump through, only a handful of them have made in time for winter.
“We know it’s not sufficient position for us to be in, that’s why we want to bring this in this winter.”