Saturday, February 03, 2007

Feedback from Keswick NHS meeting

Another day, another NHS meeting, another group of local residents who are concerned about the way the government is forcing through the CATS proposals, another group of people on the platform who are supposed to be selling the proposals but are barely trying to hide the fact that they themselves have serious reservations about them.

I attended both the Whitehaven meeting on Thursday night and the Keswick meeting on Friday night because I thought the discussion at the two evenings was likely to bring out different implications of the CATS proposals and I wanted to hear both. Residents of West Cumbria are desperately worried about the future of our Acute hospital services and the West Cumberland Hospital, and as I expected, the debate in Whitehaven was dominated by the likely knock-on effect of CATS on Acute services.

Keswick has the Mary Hewetson Cottage Hospital (usually just referred to as Keswick hospital) so I anticipated that Friday night's meeting in Keswick would be a good place to hear disussion about the possible knock on effects of the CATS proposals on Community hospitals like the ones in Keswick, Millom, The Red House in Harpenden, etc.

The tone of the two meetings could not have been more different, but the underlying concerns were the same. In Whitehaven, local residents are very angry indeed at yet another threat to their hospital, which they see as undergoing death by a thousand cuts. The tone of the meeting at certain points amounted to barely controlled fury.

The tone of the meeting in Keswick was much calmer, and residents did not show their concern for the NHS in the same way, but they showed it all the same. There were indeed questions about Keswick hospital and other community hospitals. Not surprisingly, since Keswick is a long way from any of the three proposed CATS sites in Cumbria, people were very concerned about the travel times.

I have never been at a consultation meeting at which the people who were supposed to be selling a proposal were as open about the fact that they disagreed with aspects of it as on both Thursday and Friday night. This particularly applies to the comments made last night about travel time to hospitals and CATS centres, where everyone basically agreed that the assumptions in the consultation are complete rubbish.

Speakers from the Chairman of the Primary Care Trust down admitted that the time to get from many parts of Cumbria to existing or proposed NHS facilities by car are completely unrealistic, by public transport even more so, and that the proposals are nowhere near meeting their own travel time criteria.

However, the concerns to which local NHS managers and doctors admitted went way beyond travel time. In the presentation of the government's CATS proposals the speaker presenting them, Peter Clarke, included an admission along the following lines -

In Cumbria we believe it would be possible if it wasn't correctly handled for CATS to lead to service closures. The PCT is working to ensure that this does not happen.

(I've not put this in quotation marks because I'm not a trained shorthand copyist and I may not have this word for word correct but I am certain that this was the sense of what was said.)

I think it is a great shame that the govenment is trying to impose a "one size fits all" CATS model on the country. It is quite possible that CATS may have benefits in some areas - it is also quote obvious that the model which may work in London and some densely populated areas will not work in Cumbria. But as "NHS Blog Doctor" posted yesterday, this government does not ask. It tells.

There were issues raised at both meetings which involved political leadership. It is therefore a great pity that neither Jamie Reed MP nor Tony Cunningham MP were able to attend either meeting.


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