Hemel MP Mike Penning has been accused of ‘backsliding’ on his pledges to protect and promote services at Hemel Hempstead Hospital.
Last week’s Gazette reported thatMr Penning had written a scathing letter to regional health bosses, offering his full support to proposals for a brand new hospital for West Hertfordshire.
Mr Penning’s rivals reckon that this is a turnaround from his repeated promises to secure more services in Hemel – but the MP says that these claims are “rank hypocrisy”.
Gary Cook, Labour’s candidate for the by-election to the Adeyfield ward of Dacorum Borough Council, said: “Mike Penning told us over three consecutive general elections he would fight for a return of services to the hospital.
“Now he’s positioning himself for failure, and prioritising a plan that would take a generation to build.
“Meanwhile his government has commissioned plans to cut NHS spending by £17billion which will put any future investment in doubt.”
Last week the Gazette reported on the letter, sent jointly from Mr Penning and the Dacorum Hospital Action Group (DHAG), to the West Herts Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which oversees the area’s healthcare.
The CCG is expected to support plans to upgrade services at Watford Hospital, with the possibility of reducing the care available at Hemel and St Albans hospitals.
But patients have drawn up their own detailed scheme for a brand new hospital, equidistant from Watford, Hemel and St Albans, while keeping the three existing sites as satellites of the main hospital.
Mr Cook said that the Labour Party support DHAG’s efforts but believe Mr Penning’s actions in government undermine local healthcare.
He said: “It’s not what Mike Penning says that’s important, it’s what he does. And he is suspiciously quiet about the hospital except at election time.
“He’s had over ten years to make a difference and we have nothing to show for his efforts or his proximity to the PM as a junior minister at the Home Office.
“The ultimately responsibility for the downgrading of services at Hemel Hospital lies with the Conservative-controlled Herts County Council who chose not to object to the plans to move services to Watford and refer the issue to the Health Secretary.”
Mike Penning responded strongly to Labour’s claims.
He said: “It’s complete and utter rubbish. And for a Labour Party who were responsible for closing acute services in Hemel Hempstead in the first place, it’s rank hypocrisy.
“We need a 21st century actue hospital that looks after all of us, but in the short term we also need to protect services at the hospital – and I believe that’s the position of DHAG who I have been working with for many years now.”
Mr Penning added: “I don’t think the Labour Party have got a clue what’s going on, as usual.
“Were any of the Labour councillors on the march to save our hospital? No. Now they are suffering from selective memory loss, and we are not going to let them get away with it.
“I’ve always said that we need a short-term plan and a long-term plan for health in Hemel Hempstead and in West Hertfordshire. I don’t care which of the proposals gets the go-ahead so long as we get the acute services that we need.
“But what I do not believe is that Watford Hospital is a suitable site for a major acute hospital serving the surrounding area.”
>> What do you think: Should we be prioritising bringing services back to Hemel Hempstead or building a new hospital outside of town? Email firstname.lastname@example.org