'NHS CHIEF DENIES BIN JIBE'

Southern Daily Echo – 14 October 2005

NHS chief John Richards was this week doing his best to keep a review of community hospital care on an even keel despite a storm of protest over a snide remark he was alleged to have made.

Mr Richards who is boss of the Eastleigh and Test Valley South and New Forest Primary Care Trusts has been accused of saying:

"Where is the nearest bin?"

after receiving a 40,980-signature petition – 7,000 of which had been collected in the Romsey area.

The petition was a major part of a campaign against the possible closure by the PCTs of five community hospitals in South-West Hampshire.

A PCT spokesperson said this week that he was denying a claim by Totton West councillor Dave Hibbert that he had made the remark as he carried the petition back into his offices.

But the allegation has sparked a written demand by Romsey MP Sandra Gidley for an apology and the tabling of a House of Commons motion by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis supported by Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) and Mrs Gidley.

After writing to Mr Richards, Mrs Gidley said:

"There is no reason not to believe the printed reports. This comment throws a huge doubt over the alleged open consultation. If any trust is to be restored in the PCT then John Richards must issue a full apology."

Mr Lewis's motion lodged on Monday proposes:

"That this House deplores the question 'Where's the Bin?' asked by the chief executive of the New Forest and the Eastleigh and Test Valley South Primary Care Trust after receiving a petition containing the names of 40 980 people who wish in-patient beds to remain in the Fenwick, Fordingbridge, Hythe, Milford-on-Sea and Romsey community hospitals; and fears that this is further evidence of the PCT's determination to press on with an uncosted and ill-conceived scheme for treatment at home regardless of overwhelming opposition to their proposals by the residents of the Romsey New Forest East and New Forest West constituencies."

With Mr Richards denying the accusation there was no sign of any apology but he said in a statement that it was quite untrue to suggest that he "or anybody else in the PCT" did not take seriously and respectfully the public campaign to preserve community hospitals.

The statement also pointed out that Mr Richards had cancelled other arrangements to ensure that he could personally receive the petitions at PCT headquarters. It was also his decision that the PCT should spend longer considering the views of local people.

"The petitions" it continued "are not and never were destined to be put in any bin. Anyone who disbelieves this is welcome to come to the PCT offices and inspect them for themselves.

"We are scrutinising the petitions and making them available to members of the PCT Board Hampshire County Council overview and scrutiny committee and the Patient and Public Involvement Forum to read.

"They will be reported in full to the PCT boards when they come to deliberate on the outcome of consultation and will be a matter of public record."

It added that meetings were being arranged with MPs Leagues of Friends and other community leaders

"to build up more specific plans for each locality which will be considered by the PCT boards in November".