The Government is considering a professionally-led review of the recruitment and retention of doctors in west Cumbria amid plans to downgrade key services at one of the region’s hospitals.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced the move as she visited the constituency of Copeland ahead of next week’s crucial by-election and also accused Labour of “scaremongering” over local NHS services.
The Government-appointed Success Regime has recommended consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven should be transferred to Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, some 40 miles away.
West Cumberland’s intensive care unit would also be smaller and all those suffering strokes would be initially treated in Carlisle under the proposals.
The Tory by-election candidate, Trudy Harrison, gave birth to her four daughters in Whitehaven and is against the plans.
Mrs May said: “Trudy Harrison does indeed know the importance of these services. She is opposed to the downgrading of these services.
“What is important is that Trudy Harrison is a candidate who has made clear her views not just to me but to health ministers, but she is also somebody who has a track record of delivering for local people.
“She would be the strongest voice for Copeland if elected on 23rd February.
“There is an issue about recruitment and retention of doctors.
“Trudy has come up with a very sensible idea that there should be a professionally-led review into this issue of recruitment and retention and that is something the health minister is looking at.”
She continued: “There has been a lot of scaremongering about hospital services in the NHS here by the Labour Party.
“There is no truth in the suggestion that A&E at West Cumberland Hospital is about to close.
“They have been misleading in their representation of what I have said about maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital.”
Claims the number of beds at Keswick Hospital are being cut were also unfounded, added Mrs May, and the preferred option was to increase them.
Labour has focused on health as its key campaigning topic in the by-election with its candidate, former hospital doctor Gillian Troughton, arguing NHS services and funding in Copeland would be “decimated” by the Tories.
On Wednesday, Mrs May visited Mrs Harrison’s home village of Bootle and dropped in at Captain Shaw’s CE Primary School where Year Six pupils showed off their award-winning Lego robot made as part of the First Lego League competition.
Jamie Reed, the former Labour MP for the Copeland seat, prompted the by-election when he resigned to take up a position at the Sellafield nuclear processing plant.
He held Copeland with 16,750 votes (42%) in 2015, ahead of the Conservatives on 14,186 (36%), Ukip on 6,148 (15%) and the Liberal Democrats on 1,368 (3%).
A hustings is being held in the constituency later which is expected to feature questions from nuclear workers and their families about the future of the planned Moorside nuclear power plant.