Healthier Together programme cost £2.2m over last year

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The city’s Healthier Together programme has spent a whopping £2.2 million to discover whether neighbouring hospitals should join forces, the Citizen can reveal.

Yet so far the only whiff of change on the health horizon – a potential partnership between Milton Keynes Hospital and Bedford Hospital – has been entirely unconnected with the programme, officials admit,

Healthier Together was launched a year ago to investigate whether hospitals over four counties should each specialise in a different area of expertise.

This sparked fears that Milton Keynes patients could have to travel miles for treatment and the city could even lose essential services such as maternity or A&E.

Today, after 12 months of work by numerous paid and seconded staff, 30 different meetings with clinicians and tens of thousand spent on consultancy fees, Healthier Together has still not revealed its list of recommendations.

The final report is due to go to the board next month and public consultation should “hopefully” take place by the end of the year, said a spokesman this week.

Ironically though the Healthier Together programme will no longer be around to steer any proposals in fruition.

Internal changes within the NHS mean the decision making will fall upon CCGs, the new GP-led clinical commissioning groups.

“This doesn’t mean Healthier Together has been scrapped. We have just reached the end of our first phase,” said a spokesman for the programme.

When asked if he thought the programme had been worth the £2.2 million investment, he said: “Yes we do, because the information and clinical evidence that has come out means we are now able to take the next step in what is admittedly a long and complicated process.”

He added: “The proposed link with Bedford Hospital is not part of Healthier Together. It is nothing to do with us.”

A spokesman for Milton Keynes Hospital said the Bedford partnership was in the “very early stages” and no decision had yet been made.

Meanwhile, a city MP has cautiously welcomed the MK/Bedford link, which is under investigation by an external consultancy firm.

“It could be a positive step,” said Mark Lancaster.

“But any changes should be transparent and I will continue to press to ensure that the focus is on delivering better healthcare outcomes for Milton Keynes residents.”

Labour & Co-operative Parliamentary Spokesman for Milton Keynes, Andrew Pakes, said: “I am glad that the threat to local hospital services in the original Healthier Together review has been lifted but big questions remain.

“The idea of downgrading NHS services while Milton Keynes continues to grow was absurd.

“We are a growing city and need the resources to keep up with an expanding population, not less.

“The NHS is already under pressure from government cuts. We now need complete clarity about what these new plans will mean for the city.”