Patients are “not being diverted away from Pontefract Hospital”, health bosses have insisted.
The Mid Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust said that claims people were being sent to other hospitals for their operations were not true.
The trust’s chief executive said patients had freedom of choice over where they had non-ermegency surgery.
The trust strongly denied suggestions earlier this month that Pontefract Hospital was being “wound down”, following concerns that the number of operations taking place there was falling sharply.
It has now emerged that no surgery took place at Pontefract on several days in June because of consultants taking annual leave.
Speaking at a health scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday, chief executive Martin Barkley said: “As far as the board is concerned our ambition is to ensure both Pontefract and Dewsbury hopsitals are vibrant local hospitals.
“We’ve set up a working group to establish what the future of Pontefract Hospital will look like.”
Mr Barkley said that the underuse of parts of the hospital was “nothing new”, adding, “that doesn’t make it right but it’s not a problem that’s suddenly sprung up in the last couple of weeks and months.”
The scrutiny chair, Councillor Betty Rhodes, suggested that patients were being sent away from Pontefract to Pinderfields and the private Methley Park Hospital in Leeds in an attempt to slash waiting times.
But Mr Barkley said: “They are not being diverted. It is literally driven by patient choice.”
The trust’s director of operations, Jo Haliwell, said they were trying to reassure concerned staff.
She said: “We had some days in Pontefract in June when there was no elective surgery. That’s because we’ve had weeks when the consultants at Pontefract have been on annual leave.
“I know staff at Pontefract are nervous about the amount of work going through theatres.
“Their perception is it’s a conscious decision that’s been taken by the trust to divert work away. That’s absolutely not the case. They want to do more work and we’re keen for them to be able to do that.”
But Coun Rhodes criticised the trust’s way of granting holidays and said there should be no excuse for theatres to lie unused while there was a waiting list.
She said: “I would never decry anyone taking annual leave. Staff would get more if I had anything to do with it.
“But the fact is you have theatres closed while patients are waiting for surgery. That’s disturbing.”