LETTER: Disappointed independent review won’t change NHS decisions in Burnley and Blackburn

Like you, I am extremely disappointed the decision of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel was not in our favour.

As someone who has been at the forefront of the hospital campaign for some time, I am absolutely heartbroken the IRP does not agree with us that a full review of the 2006 decision is needed.

It is very difficult to get a decision to the IRP, the scrutiny committee of the county council in 2006 should have referred the decision then, they failed and this made my job much harder. I was delighted when I managed to get the children’s ward back on the committee’s agenda late last year and was hopeful of a positive outcome when they, after much lobbying and convincing, decided to send the case to the IRP.

It is a huge blow that my efforts and the efforts of like minded residents and councillors in Burnley have not paid off. I provided written evidence to the IRP along with letters from the majority of GPs in Burnley.

I had previously contacted GPs in Burnley and Rossendale three times to gain their written support, they responded but it was still not enough to convince the IRP.

Some people have used the decision as an excuse to attack this coalition government and the current health reform plans, while I appreciate many people are concerned about NHS reforms, they bear no relation to the decision to close the children’s ward. Neither can anyone who is part of this government be blamed for the decision.

This decision was made under a Labour Government five years ago and was never contested by the Labour MP, the Labour councillors or Labour-led overview and scrutiny committee of the time. By the time I became MP and had better access to senior officials and ministers at the Department of Health, the case simply seems to have gone too far down the line. I know Nick Clegg, Paul Burstow and Andrew Lansley have personally been looking at the case and trying to help.

The IRP is an independent panel – it would simply not be acceptable for a secretary of state to overrule it – this would undermine their whole being.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported the campaign so far. I do hope I can still count on your support as, despite the decision of the IRP, I will continue to fight for the return of the children’s ward to Burnley hospital.

I am disappointed Peter Pike and his Labour friends have tried to make this a political issue. All throughout this campaign I have tried to keep politics out of it. Thousands of people have joined me on marches and signed our petitions against hospital reconfiguration and the transfer of services to Blackburn. These people didn’t do it for political gain but because, like me, they care about our hospital services.

This result is a terrible disappointment but is not the end.

The campaign continues and I will still be outside M&S in Burnley every Saturday discussing the issues and collecting signatures to enable us to prove our case to the new GP consortium when it comes into place.

Please come and join me in this battle and we will eventually win.

Gordon Birtwistle MP for Burnley