Monday, March 05, 2007

Making sure we still have a hospital

Today's Sunday telegraph magazine included an item by Sandi Toksvig.

She starts the article with a family joke to the effect that people have been concerned about the shortage of fully qualified theatre staff for her local hospital since the hospital put up a sign which says "Guard Dogs Operating."

Then she added

"Mind you give it five years and it won't be the sign we remember but the fact that we used to have a local hospital."

In the past 48 hours I've heard remarkably similar concerns expressed by people three hundred miles apart who were worried about the future of their local hospitals. Both at the AGM of Jersey Farm Residents Association in St Albans and while I was on the doorstep in the Bransty area of Whitehaven, people were expressing concern about whether local services are safe. And they were right to be concerned.

There are no easy answers in the management of the NHS. But there are some senior managers in the NHS who are too quick to see service provision in terms of a choice between local provision and world class provision.

Sometimes we should refuse to accept that this is the choice. For example, it is unacceptable to roll over and agree that we have to go along with the alternatives of retaining a maternity unit in West Cumbria and accepting that it won't be world class, or to force 1,000 women a year to travel forty miles over some of the worst trunk roads in the country to give birth. I met a local resident yesterday who was convinced that both she and her baby would have died if those were the only options.

Part of the job of governments and NHS managers is to make difficult choices. But sometimes when presented with a choice between intolerable options, the correct answer is not to accept the unacceptable, but to refuse to accept any of them and go away to make a more acceptable choice possible.

If we want the government to do that, we need to keep up the fight for our hospital services in West Cumbria


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