Friday, April 29, 2011

Public meeting on Tuesday, 6.30pm URC Hall

I was going to write a blog post urging everyone to attend the public meeting this coming Tuesday (3rd May) at the United Reformed church hall at Market Place about local hospital services.

But I can't find a better form of words than the letter which appeared in this week's Whitehaven News, written by the Rev John Bannister, and I am sure neither he nor the Whitehaven News will mind me quoting it in full.

I also quote letters on the subject from a consultant surgeon and from former councillor Ronnie Copeland.

Make your voices heard in defence of hospital services

SIR – On Tuesday, May 3, there will be a public meeting at 6.30pm in the United Reformed Church Hall on James Street. The meeting has been called by the ‘Save Our Services’ Group who have, over the past decade, acted as a pressure group for the retention of essential clinical services at West Cumberland Hospital.

A recently published report setting out the services which GPs and hospital consultants believe should be delivered at the two acute hospitals in this area, in Whitehaven and Carlisle, has created some concerns about a possible further downgrading of services at West Cumberland Hospital.

An example of our concern is the option, contained within the report, for all Intensive Care beds to be provided at Carlisle. Although much of the report shows a clear commitment from GPs towards a viable future for West Cumberland Hospital, the SOS group feel that some proposals may constitute a breach of the agreement previously given to this community as part of the outcomes of the ‘Closer to Home’ consultation which was undertaken three years back.

I urge your readers to show your concern and support for our hospital, by attending the meeting.


Rector of Whitehaven,
Save Our Services Group

SIR – What follows is my personal opinion.

I would urge you all to attend the public meeting about West Cumberland Hospital next week. It is time to go out and make your voice heard, as we have done many times before.

Make no mistake, the higher echelons of the Primary Care Trust (PCT) are working very hard to downgrade health care in West Cumbria. Certain acute services are still under threat.

The aim of the senior managers of Cumbria PCT since its formation has been to downgrade West Cumberland Hospital (WCH).

It is important to understand why they are producing a document which has as one of its options no ITU beds at WCH.

This is the only way managers can justify in the future – in the very near future – transferring all services needing ITU beds to the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, leaving WCH without a critical mass of clinical activities needed to sustain an acute district general hospital.

First it was the consultant-led maternity service and paediatrics; then it was 24/7 emergency services. Now managers are trying to remove ITU beds from WCH.

If there are no ITU beds all other clinical services are under threat, and with that WCH would become unsustainable.

West Cumbria needs to send a very clear message to all the managers that we will not accept any thing less than what was agreed in the Closer to Home document

We West Cumbrians need, deserve and demand fully resourced health care as promised in the Closer to Home document. We might have to fight for it, and fight we will.

The chief manager of the PCT keeps talking about efficiency. WCH is already an efficient hospital, as we have been functioning with less and less funding for some time. Exasperation and frustration might be mistaken for lack of efficiency.

This funding cut by the PCT has had an insidious effect, driven politically, financially, and ideologically, and at least in case of Cumbria, it is also driven by whim and self righteous attitude, which has taken a ruthless momentum. This must be opposed.

There is evidence that acute hospitals in North Cumbria have been under-funded for at least the last three years.

The PCT is trying to convince everyone that Closer to Home is working and hence there is less work needed to be done in acute hospitals and so less funding is needed, decisions are made on statistics which has the feel of creative ambiguity about it.

However the evidence suggests that is not the case. More emergencies are admitted and more elective work is also being done.

There is confusion between demand and capacity. Managers seem to think that if capacity is reduced then demand will also be reduced. That has not happened. In fact demand should dictate capacity.

Mr Andrew Lansley has been telling all media and patient groups “No decisions about me without me”; however the goal has been decided in advance and all steps taken so far are a means towards that aim, which is to downgrade WCH, no matter what the consequences are.

The PCT is in a state of denial, managers from above and clinicians from below must own up about the decisions they are making, as it has a detrimental effect on health care in West Cumbria.

The latest clinical service strategy does not give power to the professional, patients are not in control, and services are not local.

Some of the senior clinicians and clinical managers do not think that it is safe and cost-effective to transfer emergency patients to the Cumberland Infirmary.

Unless a critical mass of clinical activities are maintained, medical and all other staff will be difficult to retain and impossible to recruit.

Mr Mahesh DHEBAR

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
West Cumberland Hospital

SIR – Two years ago I wrote to you to highlight what was happening in our hospitals while warning against complacency for the future.

Our worries and concerns expressed for more than a decade have fallen on deaf ears. Carlisle’s obsession to be “The Hub” in their hub-and-spoke infatuation has resulted in West Cumberland Hospital being ridden over roughshod, particularly on services and staff.

Meanwhile, we filled to capacity the Civic Hall expressing to the then acute trust chief executive and her team our concerns and dissatisfaction; then near Christmas 2006 we held a public march to Save Our Hospital Services. One would have thought that such a show of concern, resolve and strength would carry a strong message. It certainly gave food for thought and for a time everything on the surface was Utopian. The rose-coloured glasses were worn by many but who could decry that when promises more profuse than pebbles on the beach were given under the guise of hospital consultation.

Consultation was to be the name of the game and the guidelines are set in stone provided they are carried out within an atmosphere of openness, integrity and trust. Such set standards were a non-starter, for despite promises made and repeated denials, a hidden agenda was wheeled out item by item affecting all departments, but none more so than cardiology.

Testing the water was the terminology quoted to me when personnel were first rostered to Carlisle Hospital – just for one day, then a couple of days, now at least 50 per cent of their time, some even for ever. There was no such testing of the water regarding hospital services. The dagger was thrust fast and deep. In the cardio unit consultants had carried out not hundreds but thousands of heart operations in the form of angiograms and the insertion of pacemakers and the manner of their removal was a matter of grave concern which has to be highlighted, for in the middle of March the given promises commenced to crumble like pie crust and emphasised the saying: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Our Heart and Angina Support group received information that the services of angiography, and insertion of pacemakers were to be withdrawn. This initially was denied by the Trust. However, good investigative reporting by The Whitehaven News acting on information given by our group resulted that in the March 18 issue last year the story was carried re transfer of patient heart services from West Cumberland Hospital to Carlisle. Well, talk about “egg on the face” – the embarrassment at board level was intense, resulting within 24 hours the dispatch of a personal letter from the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust’s Chief Executive. I quote the gist of the letter from March 19 2010:

Dear Mr Copeland

I am writing in connection to the angiography provision at West Cumberland Hospital and the proposed changes to this service, and in particular the support of the Copeland Heart and Angina Group.

Please accept my apologies that I have not been in touch with you by now, however, the press story on this overtook events and I would have preferred to speak to you personally prior to this.”

So in a couple of days the bubble had burst – what price now “no hidden agenda”? With this type of going on behind closed doors, no department is safe. Rehab, trauma, palliative care and ITU spring to mind. The WCH is being decimated and, worse, its staff are having their lifelong dedication sucked out of them.

I forecast there will be no respite in the movement of staff and services from WCH and when NCUHT are forced to present the true facts and figures, all hell will break out.


Whitehaven Castle

AN NHS Cumbria spokesperson told the Whitehaven News: “Hospital and family doctors have been working hard to deliver on the promises made to the people of north Cumbria through the 2008 Closer to Home consultation. The Clinical Strategy has been developed by GPs and hospital consultants from West Cumberland and sets out how the rest of the changes agreed in Closer to Home will be delivered over the coming years.

“It includes a commitment to a new West Cumberland Hospital which clinicians want to develop into a hospital of choice for patients undergoing planned operations from across Cumbria and other parts of the region.

“Importantly, the strategy reaffirms the commitment of GPs and hospital doctors to consultant-led maternity and accident & emergency services at the hospital - a key component of the original closer to home plan. The clinical strategy is currently being assessed by independent health economists to make sure it remains sustainable.”