Monklands closure is no accident and could lead to an emergency

SO, LEWIS Macdonald, Labour's deputy health minister, wants to close the accident and emergency department at Monklands Hospital.

My first reaction is: "Tell us something we didn't know was going to happen". Those of us who have campaigned from the start of NHS Lanarkshire's consultation on its proposals have known from day one it would be the A&E at Monklands that would get the chop. A Picture of Health, the so-called consultation paper issued by the health board earlier this year, appears to have a fairly benign and neutral sounding name. While it contained some good ideas, its main focus was the ill-thought-out proposal to reduce accident and emergency cover from three to two departments.

The status quo of three departments was not included as an option. The move to two was presented as a fait accompli by the health board. No questions were to be asked on this matter; they know best. So much for consultation.

Stupidly, the Lanarkshire Labour MSPs conceded that one of the A&Es should close, the only argument for them being which one.

Any objective analysis of the health needs of Lanarkshire shows that - because of its geography and levels of poverty and deprivation - it needs three A&E units. There are many weekends when even the three of them find it difficult to cope. Closing Monklands will literally threaten lives as some people will have to travel for up to an hour to reach an A&E. For anyone suffering from a stroke or heart attack, this could, literally, be fatal.

Unlike Monklands, the other two A&Es in Lanarkshire are funded through private finance initiatives (PFI). Even if either of them closed, with no future throughput of patients, NHS Lanarkshire would still have to fork out huge sums of money to the PFI contractor for the next 30 years. PFI requirements, not health needs, were the key factor in sealing Monklands' fate. This became blatantly obvious at the NHS Lanarkshire board meeting that decided to close Monklands.

Overall in Central Scotland, the Scottish Executive is planning to shut seven of the 15 existing A&Es.

This is a disastrous policy, especially as the implications for closing an A&E such as Monklands will have significant knock-on effects on other units, such as the new Larbert Hospital. The plans for it will now have to be completely redrawn, as its capacity will need to increase by 20 per cent to cater for the people from Cumbernauld and Kilsyth who currently use Monklands.

Furthermore, the closure of the A&E unit and all acute services there will put a question mark over the future of Monklands Hospital itself. If the current closure plans go ahead, it's only a matter of time before NHS Lanarkshire decides to close the entire hospital.

That is why, despite Lewis Macdonald, the campaign to save the Monklands A&E will carry on until it has been won.

• Alex Neil is an SNP MSP for Central Scotland.