Independent experts will decide if Huddersfield Royal Infirmary has a future.
It was confirmed on Thursday that the Secretary of State for Health has finally decided to pass the unpopular hospital proposals on for review.
Hospital chiefs’ plans to radically reconfigure hospital care have been more than three years in the making.
The final proposals, submitted to Jeremy Hunt last summer, aim to move virtually all hospital care to Halifax, leaving Huddersfield with a tiny 64 bed unit at Acre Mills.
Mr Hunt had the choice of rubber stamping the controversial plan, which would have left the whole of Kirklees with no full A&E.
But it has now been confirmed that he has turned that option down.
In a letter to the joint health scrutiny panel of Kirklees and Calderdale councils, Mr Hunt says he has asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) to analyse the plans.
News that the IRP has finally been put to work means months of limbo are finally over.
But it also means the clock is again ticking on the future of a full emergency hospital in Huddersfield.
Mike Forster, of Hands Off HRI, said it was a relief that Mr Hunt had not automatically given the go-ahead but he warned there was “still some way to go.”
He said: “We’ve been contacted by the Department of Health who are asking for submissions.
“We’ve submitted fresh evidence to the IRP about stealth changes and we will be submitting more about the reconfiguration.
“We hope that Mr Hunt and his team do a proper review and not just a desktop review.
“We hope they undertake a full review and the panel visit Huddersfield to talk with the major stakeholders.
“We hope they will quickly realise that Huddersfield can’t function without a full hospital in town.”
The IRP has until February 26 to take an “initial assessment” of the case.
It will review Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust’s so called Full Business Case and the concerns raised by the scrutiny panel.
It will then decide if hospital chiefs’ proposals require a closer look.
If it does not, it will likely recommend they are given the green light.
Karl Deitch, of ‘Let’s Save HRI’, said: “We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate to the IRP how dangerously flawed these plans are.
“We believe that the IRP will have to hold a full inquiry into the plans given their scale and significance, and it is imperative that the public of Huddersfield and beyond recognise that this is the time to stand up and be counted.
“We must all make our voices heard, this is the one big chance to see these plans consigned to the dustbin.
“Let’s Save HRI expects to be invited to submit evidence to the panel and we will continue to gather evidence to present in due course.
“The fight goes on.”
Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman said Mr Hunt’s decision was “inevitable” and a “positive step forward.” He said: “Pressure has been brought on him by the tremendous unity shown by local people who would not let up the campaign to keep HRI open and the local MPs who worked with them.”
But he added: “Take nothing for granted. The campaign goes on.”
Paula Sherriff, MP for Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton, welcomed the development following pressure from campaigners and MPs.
She said she hoped people would now be able to make clear their opposition to proposed changes to local NHS services in front of the IRP.
“I continue to be deeply concerned about the Tories’ plans for our local hospitals,” she said.
“I am glad the Health Secretary bowed to pressure and there is now the possibility that opposition to changes to local health services may be heard by the IRP.
“In November, Mr Hunt made a promise to me that he would visit our area to see the effects of his cuts on our hospitals, however I am still waiting for a date from him.
“I hope to see a full review of the referral by the IRP and I will continue the fight to save our local NHS services.”
Colne Valley MP, Thelma Walker, said: “The Health Secretary has considerably dragged his feet over this issue, and has only taken action recently, following a letter from the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee and several Parliamentary Questions.
“I now hope that Independent Reconfiguration Panel will do the right thing, and ask for the full case to be reviewed.
“This cannot just be rubber stamped through.
“I will continue to support all of the local campaign groups in making sure that we have a fully funded and accessible healthcare service for Colne Valley and the surrounding areas.”