A COUNCILLOR has promised to continue to fight to protect Minor Injuries Units (MIUs) at community hospitals across the county after they were described as “a thing of the past”.

Cllr Joe Harris, Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) ward member for Cirencester Park, has said such community facilities still “have a vital role to play” amidst growing speculation that there could be further cuts.

GCC’s health and care overview scrutiny committee met on Tuesday (July 11) to discuss the county’s emerging Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), which sets out priorities for health care provision and delivery.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Collette Finnegan, who represents Gloucester City Council on the committee, said: "I do think STPs are the way forward, we have to have change.

“I appreciate what colleagues have said about MIUs but I do think that they are a thing of the past and the STPs are the way forward.”

Cirencester Hospital’s once 24-hour MIU ceased operating through the night from November and now closes at 11pm, despite protests from residents and councillors to keep it open 24 hours a day.

The closure came as part of the NHS’s overhaul of Gloucestershire’s seven MIUs, in a bid to save costs and bring them in line with CQC guidelines after a study in June last year found the county’s MIUs required improvement.

Cllr Harris, one of those who campaigned to prevent the overnight closure, said, after the meeting: “I'm clear that we should be investing in facilities such as these, not reducing the offer they give.

"I was shocked and saddened to hear Cllr Finnegan advocating the closure of MIUs across Gloucestershire through the STP.

“These facilities provide fantastic care for rural communities who can't always access larger facilities in our bigger towns.”

He went on to say: “Our community hospitals have a vital role to play in easing the pressure on our larger facilities in Gloucester and Cheltenham, which we know are often under real strain.”

Referring to the STPs, he told the Standard: “There is not a lot of detail being shared. People have concerns about the future of the likes of Cirencester Hospital and Stroud, and they need reassuring.”

“The language being used is pointing towards moving services into one place, to the bigger hospitals and centralising everything.

“Which, on the one hand, sounds great but in reality it’s going to mean longer waiting times.”

In recent weeks, fellow county councillor Paul Hodgkinson, who represents Bourton and Northleach, has said: “There seems to be an ongoing question mark over Cirencester Hospital.”

After breaking a couple of ribs following a fall in May, Cllr Hodgkinson was treated at the Tetbury Road facility and said he was impressed with the service.

“It opened my eyes to how important of a facility it is.”

He said: “We’ve had the restricted hours over night; I don’t want that to be a precursor to other cuts being made.”

Referring to the launch of the STPs, he said: “One of the concerns I’ve got, the NHS may ration services even more.

“A code name for closing this, closing that,” he added.

Speaking to the Standard in response to Cllr Harris, Cllr Finnegan said: "As Gloucester City Health Champion and with over 30 years professional experience in senior health management am I not qualified to pass judgement on what is clearly an out of date and unviable system?

"The NHS is fast changing and minor injuries units should in my opinion be phased out in deference to a better model - such as larger multipurpose GP practices like the exciting project in my own ward of Abbeydale."

In response to Cllr Hodgkinson, she said: "It [STP] is not 'a code name for closing this, closing that', as far from being closed the existing units may well be developed and enhanced to the greater good of the community."

She went on to say: "The NHS is having to respond to the various needs of an ever-changing population and the STP is focused on delivering 21st century best practice.

"It is a fact that the future of MIUs is part of a much broader debate across the country about different ways of working that could see them being subsumed into more efficient and integrated hubs offering a bigger range of services, more senior clinicians and longer opening hours.

"I never once said MIUs would be closed per se. Steam trains are a thing of the past but rail travel still continues."

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard:

Cllr Joe Harris outside Cirencester Hospital