HEALTH minister Andrew Lansley is set to visit Pilgrim Hospital tomorrow (Thursday) amid a storm of protest about his controversial NHS reforms.
It is believed Mr Lansley, who was invited to visit health facilities in the area by Boston MP Mark Simmonds, will tour the accident and emergency, intensive care and maternity wards and speak to staff and patients.
However, members of public sector trade union Unison are planning to mark the visit with a funeral procession to signify what they think is the death of the health service, including a coffin, wreath and mourners in black.
Unison area organiser for Lincolnshire David Kirwan said: “We feel that the health bill which went through Parliament was really the death nail in the coffin of the NHS.
“As Andrew Lansley was the person who pushed the bill through we feel it appropriate to protest when he comes to Boston.”
He warned that health reforms planned by the Government could affect services in Boston. They include moves towards regional pay, which could mean NHS staff get paid less if they work in poorer parts of the country.
Mr Kirwan said this may mean places like Boston will find it harder to recruit staff and said there was a risk Pilgrim Hospital could become privatised should United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust fail to achieve foundation status by April next year.
The Department of Health has refused requests from The Standard to speak to Mr Lansley before or after his hospital tour or to walk with him on his visit due to local elections elsewhere.
A Department of Health spokesman defended the recent Health and Social Care Act and said claims that the Government aims to privatise the NHS are ‘simply wrong’, adding that nothing in the act would allow this to happen.
Boston Labour Party councillors have also criticised reforms as a ‘betrayal’ to hard-working staff and have hit out at Mr Lansley for refusing to speak to the press.
Ahead of Mr Lansley’s visit tomorrow the Labour party’s regional press spokesman and Boston borough councillor Paul Kenny laid out the party’s concerns about the NHS reforms.
He said the Boston Labour Party is concerned that, under the proposals, up to 49 per cent of Pilgrim Hospital could be run by private providers such as Circle Healthcare, which employs Mr Simmonds as an adviser.
He said: “Local people tell us that they want the NHS to be a nationally run service and not run by companies such as Circle Healthcare.
“We are worried that a company like Circle Healthcare would be trying to gain control of Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital.”
Coun Kenny added the party were ‘disturbed’ to hear about the development of local pay deals.
He added: “This is a betrayal to the hard working staff who are working in the Pilgrim. Our doctors and nurses, cleaners and porters all deserve the same rate of pay regardless of where they live.”
He also criticised the refusal of Mr Lansley to speak to the press.
“He keeps trying to say he can’t speak to the public because of the forthcoming elections but we haven’t got any elections in Boston - that’s just a good excuse,” he said.
“He doesn’t want to hear what the public or the staff have to say.”
The Department of Health spokesman defended moves toward regional pay.
They said: “We have submitted evidence to the independent NHS Pay Review Body as part of their review of how pay can be made more responsive to local labour markets in England.
“This is a significant step towards creating a more balanced regional economy that ensures wages are set at the right level in every location across the public sector.”
They added the department’s evidence explained how more ‘market facing pay’ could help employers make better use of the ‘limited’ NHS pay bill.
The review body will consider the evidence and report their recommendations in the summer.
A spokesman for ULHT, which runs the Pilgrim Hospital, said the Trust was pleased to be hosting the ministerial visit.
The spokesman said: “At Pilgrim Hospital in particular we are looking forward to showing the minister the range of recent developments and investments which have been taking place and also the changes to our working practices at Pilgrim.”
Mr Simmonds did not wish to comment until after the visit.