Regional health bosses have backed Huddersfield NHS chiefs over plans to carry out a controversial shake-up of hospital services.
They have given broad support to moves which would lead to the axing of A&E services at one hospital, with emergency care centred only on one site.
And they have also supported the use of Skype technology to link three new “urgent care” centres, including one at Holmfirth.
Full details of the plan will be revealed when the proposal goes to public consultation next month.
NHS chiefs shelved plans a year ago to press ahead with a major reconfiguration of services. It followed a storm of protest triggered when hospital bosses admitted their preference was to centre emergency care at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, with Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax losing full A&E and maternity services.
Now officials are drawing up a new case for change as concerns grow over a financial crisis that has left the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust predicting a £22m deficit in 2015-16.
The senate report is based on papers, which have not been made public, in which local NHS leaders detail existing problems facing services and set out a potential future model of hospital care.
The senate panel says “staying the same is not an option” and there is “clear” rationale for a single emergency care centre serving the area with linked services including consultant-led maternity care.
It said more details – particularly over staffing levels – are needed to give a full assessment but describes the outline plans as offering “a good vision for the future of hospital services.”
The panel said it was clear from the quality and safety case for change drawn up by NHS chiefs that there were “inconsistencies” in outcomes for patients. Key challenges included death rates, hospital readmission rates, length of hospital stay, long waits for tests, high numbers of complaints and nurse sickness.
It said: “The senate agrees that this provides a clear, balanced and powerful message that the current configuration of services does not and cannot meet national guidance and that staying the same is not an option.”
But it said more detail was needed on plans to create three new urgent care centres. No details of their locations or opening hours have been made public but one is expected to be at the Holme Valley Memorial Hospital.
The panel says the centres will be linked via Skype to the main emergency unit but says further work is needed over staffing to ensure “there is the correct medical and nursing skill mix and experience to safely stabilise a very sick patient.”
It adds: “Currently the senate has no information on the staffing of these centres and an inexperienced staff member seeking advice from colleagues via Skype does not offer a rounded solution. We are also not clear on the paediatric expertise at each centre.”
Local NHS leaders are expected to give an update on their reconfiguration plans next month prior to a public consultation. This is likely to be tied in to recovery plans by the NHS trust to secure its long-term sustainability.
NHS Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We acknowledge the content of the report and we will continue to work with our local NHS partners to respond to the findings of the clinical senate’s review as we prepare the pre-consultation work.”