Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A new broom at the PCT

Two straws in the wind in respect of the new Cumbria Primary Care Trust and the ladies at the head of it, acting chair Maggie Chadwick and Chief Executive Sue Page.

At a meeting last week with representatives from the threatened Community Hospitals, I gather that the PCT officials who were present made encouraging noises to the effect that the Trusts may at last be re-evaluating and giving more value to the role of Community Hospitals. If this reflects a genuine change and is not just window dressing that would be very good news.

I have been listening on Radio 4's "Today" programme every morning this week to their series about where all the money spent on the NHS is going. The new boss at Cumbria PCT was interviewed this morning.

The interview sounded very interesting but when you try to work out what had actually been said in concrete terms there wasn't all that much. If the new leadership is as efficient at protecting health services as at sounding positive and helpful without actually saying very much, then the local NHS is in good hands.

Patient's Forums to be scrapped

As expected the government has managed to get the bill to abolish patient's forums through the House of Commons. Even most of those Labour MPs who often rebel voted for the second reading of the bill, as did all the Labour MPs from Cumbria. The other MPs from Cumbria, Conservative David MacLean and the Lib/Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale voted against.

This is not good news for those who want to be able to campaign to protect hospital services.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hands Off Patient Forums

On Monday the government will ask the House of Commons to scrap patient forums when the ludicrously misnamed "Local government and Public Involvement" bill comes up for it's second reading.

The Bill proposes abolition both of the Commission for patient and Public Involvement, and the 400 patient and public forums, which themselves have much less power than the Community Health Councils they replaced.

Typically, Tony Blair made a speech on Friday in which he said how valuable "patient power" is, three days before his government proposes to get rid of the bodies they set up to facilitate that power. There is a suggestion that instead the government will try to set up networks for public involvement operating through local councils, but the government has not said much about how this will operate.

In an area like West Cumbria where our hospital services are under threat, this may well mean that another of the channels through which we can lobby to save our services is taken away. If so it will be a bad day for the NHS and a bad day for local democracy. It will be interesting to see which MPs have the courage to vote against the bill.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Concern at Ear, Nose and Throat proposals

Government plans for new privately-run clinics to ease local waiting lists have provoked a statement of concern from four leading Ear, Nose and Throat consultants in Cumbria and also from local Conservative MP David MacLean.

The four surgeons say that the proposals will disrupt existing services and have dire consequences for patients across the area.

The Capture, Assess, Treat and Support (CATS) centres proposed for Carlisle and Workington would treat NHS patients to help meet strict new waiting list targets, performing routine operations, diagnostic tests and aftercare to ease pressure on other hospitals.

But they have been met with strong opposition from NHS staff, who fear it will affect quality of care and put their services and jobs at risk.

A petition opposing the centres has already been launched and now the four surgeons have added their combined weight to the campaign.

A letter has been sent to Mike Farrar, chief executive of the North West Strategic Health Authority, signed by Nick Murrant, Donald Clark, Richard Hogg and Andrew Robson – who together conduct ear, nose and throat (ENT) procedures at the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital.

One of their worries is how far the contracting process has gone – with South African firm Netcare already named as the preferred operator – without any discussion with local doctors.

In the letter they state: “The matter was effectively raised with us surgeons, whose combined consultant experience totals over 40 years, only once a fait accompli. This is an outrageous omission from the perspective of our patients and the general public.”

They say the new clinics will give poor value for taxpayers’ money and add an unnecessary tier of activity, which will result in “wide-reaching, probably irreversible erosion of high quality, consultant-led care.”

They claim that similar centres elsewhere in the UK are already recruiting junior doctors to run these services.

The consultants go on to list nine specific concerns about the impact of creating NHS-funded, privately-run clinics in north Cumbria and demand an urgent response.

These concerns include the financial impact on the existing acute trust, potentially resulting in closure of units, the lack of public consultation and the impact it will have on staff training.

However they are most worried that staff at the new clinics will not have the high standard of training expected, affecting the quality of care.

They say: “It appears that care may be delivered by doctors with either no UK training or by a GP who has undergone a few hours training a week over 12 months.

“Do you understand our frustration that the patient population, which is being sold a relentless ‘choice’ mantra, is in reality having the most fundamental choice – that of consulting with a fully accredited, audited, appraised and reputable NHS consultant surgeon – taken away?”

Ultimately the surgeons stress that there is no need for the private clinics in this area, as they are already on course to meet the new 18-week waiting target by December 2008.

In fact, they say that in 2002 a fourth ENT consultant was appointed in north Cumbria to help do just that.

They add that if there are genuine gaps in the service, such as hearing aid provision, they would be happy to discuss ways to fill them.

The implementation of the CATS centres – at Workington Community Hospital and an unknown site in Carlisle – was initially due to get underway next month. However, this has now been postponed following threats from health unions of a judicial review.

After receiving a copy of the consultants’ letter, David Maclean, MP for Penrith and the Border, has publicly backed their campaign.

He has also written to Mr Farrar calling for essential information about the proposed centres and demanding full consultation before they progress any further.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cumbria to lose Ambulance Control Room

The number of ambulance control rooms in the North West is to be reduced from four to three and once again it is Cumbria which loses out.

Under proposals from the North West Ambulance Trust, the work of the existing Cumbria control centre is to be moved to a site between Preston and Garstang in Lancashire. From West Cumbria, this site will be a over two hours drive away.

The move co-incides with the loss of the fire service control. Both proposals have been resisited fiercely by local unions, but to no avail.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I wish everyone reading this a happy, healthy and successful New Year 2007 for yourself and your family.

I hope that this year will deliver a secure future for West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital. But this will not happen by chance. We must all work together to acheive it.