LEADING Southend councillors have defended their decision to delay a major transformation of healthcare services, insisting they are acting in the best interests of residents.

Southend Council’s people scrutiny committee met this week and voted almost unanimously to refer the controversial hospital shake-up plan to the Health Secretary for more scrutiny.

The council had originally been recommended to challenge the plan solely on the move to centralise stroke services in Basildon.

James Courtenay, Tory deputy leader of the council, described the decision as “challenging” but agreed it was the right one.

He said: “I am elected to represent the residents of Southend and residents wanted the plan referred, it was quite clear.

“There are risks of making this decision and there is a high chance the Secretary of State will send the plans back unchanged or that the serious concerns about losing the stroke unit will get lost in the argument.

“However, on weighing up the arguments we had to decide whether to let a lot of issues go and only refer it based on the stroke unit or refer the whole thing and that is why it was challenging.”

The decision to send the plans to Whitehall has been criticised by some health professionals who spearheaded the plan.

However, Independent councillor Martin Terry believes it was not good enough.

He said: “If they had done their job right in the first place none of this would have happened.

“They consulted only about 3,000 people out of more than a million and didn’t come up with a proper plan.

“It’s entirely their fault and I think they should all stand down and resign.

“Southend has the highest population and the highest demand for services.

“We also have an excellent existing stroke service so why would you want to dismantle that and put it somewhere else and suggest we transport people up and down the road network.

“It is not satisfactory, it’s an illogical plan.”

Essex County Council, which represents residents in Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford, Chelmsford and Maldon, backs the transformation plan for Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals.

A spokesman said: “A joint health overview scrutiny committee has looked at the proposals and did not recommend it for referral.

“We respect, however, the right of the Southend’s people and scrutiny committee to take a different view for their residents.”

The delay could also heavily impact patients in Thurrock because the plans include the closure of Orsett Hospital.

This has also attracted opposition from residents who fear services will be lost. However, the council declined to comment on the decision by Southend Council.

Professor Mike Bewick is the independent chairman of the joint committee of the five clinical commissioning groups in mid and south Essex which worked together to put together the plan.

He describes the referral as “frustrating” and stressed he remains confident the plans will enhance hospital care for the whole population.

A spokesman for Save Southend NHS, set up to try and protect the NHS in the area, was delighted with the move.

Campaigners have criticised any suggestion of moving services outside of the borough and described the decision by the council as “people power at its finest”.

The group held a protest outside the committee meeting this week.

The spokesman said: “Save Southend NHS are elated with the result and would like to thank Southend Council for reaching the right decision for local people.

“The cash slashing NHS plans have been flawed from the outset and thanks to a united community campaign highlighting the concerns, the shambolic ‘postcode lottery’ for healthcare will be independently reviewed.”

With changes on hold those in charge of hospital and primary care services will continue to work under the current system until the Department of Health reviews the plans.