Winter gritting service reduction could disrupt Northamptonshire's health services

A snow plough clearing the county's roads.
A snow plough clearing the county's roads.

Hospitals could be disrupted and patient treatment affected by the county council’s plans to reduce the road gritting this winter according to Northamptonshire’s health professionals.

Gritting lorries will be treating 400k less of the county’s road network during the icy months in a bid by the cash-strapped authority to save £475,000 from its budget.

There has been a public outcry about the plans with councillors and rural communities voicing their concerns about the impact the icy roads will have on safety for drivers and on delivering provisions to villages.

And now health bosses say the county council’s cost cutting measures could lead to doctors and nurses unable to get into work which will cause disruption across the healthcare system at its busiest time of year. There are also fears that patients will not be able to get to to GPs for help and could be forced to miss surgery appointments if they cannot get venture out on safe roads.

Speaking at this morning’s Corby Clinical commissioning meeting GP Nathan Spencer from Great Oakley medical centre said he was concerned about the impact the service reduction could have.

He said: “The implication is we have vulnerable people who may not be able to attend GP or hospital appointments.”

Interim accountable officer for both Nene and Corby clinical commission groups Stuart Rees said a group of senior nurses, community health providers and medical staff had looked at the county council’s stabilisation plan – which spells out how the county will save £65m before April- and had listed concerns which it was hoping to discuss with senior staff at the county council.

However any discussions could be too late as the plan is already agreed and the council’s contractors have been told to grit just 32 percent of the road network this year, opposed to the 43 percent that were salted last winter.

An equality impact assessment carried out by the county council into the possible consequences of the winter service reduction admits that the elderly and disabled could be affected.

It says: “As a large proportion of roads in the county are in rural areas reductions in the gritted network will likely affect the rural road network and rural communities more than in the urban areas. Therefore, taking into account the feedback received, the final impact for this proposal has been assessed as possibly having a negative impact on older people, disabled people and people living and travelling in rural areas.”

A spokesman for the county council said: “Given the financial challenges faced and a very difficult budget position, further tough decisions were needed.

“The routes which have been taken off the council’s precautionary network are now on what is known as the adverse network.

“The adverse network consists of roads which are gritted when snow conditions are declared. Therefore in extreme conditions, these roads will be gritted.”