HUDDERSFIELD AND SURROUNDING TOWNS are facing the prospect of hospital closures and reduction of services. The method being used by the government, as elsewhere, is to get others to do their dirty work for them and then blame the people involved. In local government, it is by cutting council budgets and forcing councils to make cuts to services. In the health service, they use local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) as their fall-guys. And so it is with the Huddersfield and Calderdale area. The CCG recently announced the results of a consultation completed by Ernst & Young, a firm foisted on it by the government. There are to be widespread cuts and a reduction in health services, including the closure of A&E, at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI).
It had been anticipated that the other hospital, the Calderdale Royal Hospital, would have its A&E targeted. And, although local campaigners in the Calderdale area had been busy organising protests for the last two years, it was not until the announcement that it was their hospital being targeted, that the people of Huddersfield responded.
Within hours of the announcement, a petition was started and a Facebook group set up. Within a week, the petition had nearly 10,000 signatures and the Facebook group had close to 47,000 members. This definitely illustrates the power of social media.
The local Tory MP jumped on the bandwagon of opposition to this A&E closure. But in an attempt to mute the discussion and hide his own voting record, local Conservatives attempted to control the narrative on social media. They began to shut down any discussion of a wider context and sought to restrict all discussion only to opposition to the single issue of this one particular A&E closure.
This caused much friction among the campaigners, as “non-partisan working” got translated as “non-political”, which got translated as “keep the focus on just saving our A&E and don’t mention anything that appears even remotely connected with politics or politicians”.
Turning this discourse around was hard work. It meant helping 47,000 people on the social media campaign to understand that the immediate proposal to close the A&E has come about precisely because of Conservative policies. What became clear is that, despite the Tories’ attempt to silence this aspect of the discussion, people were soon making links between government policy and the wider cuts to the NHS – understanding that the local Clinical Commissioning Group proposals were an outcome of a wider process of cuts and privatisation, and not just some local bad clinicians on the CCG.
Simon Hewitt adds:
The A&E department at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary provides emergency services for Huddersfield, home to over 160,000 people, and to the outlying area. In January the Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Group announced plans to close full emergency services at Huddersfield, with these being sent to Calderdale Royal Hospital instead. Since that announcement, the ‘Let’s Save Huddersfield A&E’ Facebook page has featured moving stories of the care and reassurance provided by the Huddersfield department.
A vibrant campaign has been formed in opposition. Over 5,000 people marched through the town in late February to protest against the closure. Online petitions have attracted thousands of signatures. Local Labour MP Barry Sheerman also has a petition. Your local hospital could be next!
» The petition is at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/118690
Barry Sheerman’s campaign is at http://www.barry4huddersfield.co.uk/nhs
is a member of Colne Valley CLP and local organizer of the Hands off Huddersfield Royal infirmary campaign.