Campaigners fighting to stop Kidderminster Hospital losing its accident and emergency department have scored a dramatic victory in the Wyre Forest district council elections, held on 4 May.
The Health Concern Keeping Kidderminster Hospital Alive Party now has 19 seats on the 42-seat council, an 11-seat gain on the eight it won last year. The Labour Party lost seven of its original 18 seats.
The victory marks another twist in the tortuous saga of Worcestershire HA's plans to rationalise acute services in the county, which aim to centralise A&E and acute services at a private finance initiative hospital in Worcester.
The protesters are now just short of a majority on the council. David Parry, spokesman for the party, says he now plans to target Worcester's MPs. 'The election has consolidated what happened last year, which our opponents thought was just a reactive twitch, ' he added. 'The district council has no direct responsibility for the hospital, but we have made it our place to give the people of the area an avenue to make their feelings known and we shall use the council for that.'
Harold Musgrove, chair of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals trust, said: 'We know from the public consultation that people aren't happy about the changes at Kidderminster.
But we can't keep the hospital in the same state because it's always been like that if clinically that's not the right thing to do.'
Professor David Hunter of the Nuffield Institute for Health said the election showed that managers were in a 'catch 22 situation'. 'They're being told to rationalise services and improve quality, and they're also being told to listen to their community. They can't win, really.'
How health candidates fared in Greater London Assembly
In the Greater London Assembly elections, also on 4 May, Lord Harris of Haringey (Labour), former chair of the Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales, was elected member for Brent and Harrow. Mayor Ken Livingstone has asked him to chair the Metropolitan police authority. John Biggs (Labour), director of the Socialist Health Association, was elected member for City and East.
See news focus, pages 12-13.