Leading county politicians, unions and patients have had their say on leaked documents which show possible scenarios for the future of services at Kettering General Hospital.
The leaked plans reveal that in July, medical experts at Healthier Together discussed how hospitals could have their services affected, and their top option was a scenario where Kettering would lose 515 of its 658 beds.
Healthier Together is a £2m clinician-led project which has put hospitals in Kettering, Northampton, Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes under the microscope with the aim of providing better health services for people across the region.
The group says the July documents are a work in progress and stressed no decisions have yet been taken.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone said: “We’re talking about theoretical modelling and it’s a very early stage of the process for Healthier Together.
“The Health Secretary today told me that the hospital will not close, and its A&E and maternity services won’t close.”
Mr Hollobone said that the Telegraph deliberately picked the worst option.
The paper reported this option as it was revealed in the documentation that this was the top ranked option according to Healthier Together’s own criteria which included affordability, quality, sustainability and travel. The paper also outlined that there were 14 other options, including six scenarios where the hospital gains beds, although none of these were in the document’s top three ranking options.
The matter has been raised by Conservative politicians in Parliament, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying that the hospital is safe.
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone said: “The documents are out of date and of course Kettering Hospital’s A&E is safe.
“The Conservative Government is spending money on the NHS in the long term.
“Under 13 years of Labour, Corby and Wellingborough didn’t have urgent care centres – now they do.
“Labour talk about the NHS, we deliver.”
Christine Emmett, the Conservative candidate for the Corby and East Northamptonshire by-election, said: “I don’t know what will happen at the end of the consultation, but I know at the end of it all that the A&E and maternity services will stay open, as will the hospital.
“The review has been put together and is led by clinicians to reflect the changes in healthcare and give the best possible care to patients.
“The hospital is not a museum.
“But we should leave it to the clinicians rather than scaring people.”
Other candidates for the forthcoming by-election spoke about the document.
The Liberal Democrat’s Jill Hope said: “I think the models of care proposed by Healthier Together are the right thing.
“I know its right to concentrate the expertise instead of spreading it too thinly.
“If I suffered a stroke I’d much rather be taken in an ambulance for 20 miles to a place where I’d get the right treatment than be taken to the wrong place.”
UKIP’s Margot Parker said: “The issue is being used as a political football.
“I want my constituents to have the best possible care and we should leave it to the clinicians as they know what they are doing.”
Campaigners and unions shared their fears.
Ian Kelly, who is the unison branch manager at the hospital, said: “It is our NHS and they should be honest.”
Marian Anderson, 38, of Pen Green Lane, Corby, said: “Christine Emmett has said we need to trust the clinicians but they are not looking at it from the patient’s point of view.
“I don’t think there is the infrastructure in place for this kind of change.
“The A43 has yet to be dualled and it is slow on some days.
“My child was born early and had to stay at Kettering General SCBU for three months.
“I would have been emotionally all over the place if I hadn’t had my partner with me, and he was only able to attend because Kettering Hospital is so close.”
Bosses at Kettering General Hospital met last month to discuss a workforce strategy for the next five years which outlined plans to reduce staff numbers by about 400 workers.
The hospital currently has a workforce of about 3,100 staff.
The document has since been removed from the trust’s website and bosses at the hospital did not approve the strategy as they felt more research was required.
Chief executive Lorene Read said: “The document was intended as a starting point to help us to understand how we might meet the challenges of tighter public funding and future reduced demand for hospital services when community initiatives are put in place to support people closer to their homes.
“To meet these challenges – which would reduce our income – we will need to change the way we work so that we can continue to have the right staff, in the right place to bring high quality hospital care for local people.
“Reorganisation may mean things like making sure our highly skilled clinical staff do not do routine administrative work just because that is the way a particular service has been historically organised.
“Instead we might have a group of administrative staff to serve a whole department in a more efficient and effective way.”