From the Save Southend NHS Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SaveSouthendNHS/
Campaigners Slam Flawed Consultation
Local health service campaigners who attended a consultation event organised by the Mid and South Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership in Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion on 8th February about the future of regional NHS services condemned NHS leaders for failing to give credible answers over their plans.
The changes are designed to plug a predicted £500 million funding gap across the area. Critical services, including stroke, emergency orthopaedic surgery and others, are to be removed from Southend Hospital and relocated to either Basildon Hospital or Chelmsford’s Broomfield Hospital. The plans assume that it will be possible to keep patients away from hospital by using unspecified technology to develop ‘self service’ and allowing people other than GPs to deliver ‘primary’ healthcare.
Hundreds of critically-ill patients who can no longer be treated locally will have to be transported to other hospitals across the road network.
Transport plans ‘meaningless’
Senior managers who presented the plans were repeatedly asked to explain how their grand scheme could be delivered given a stunning lack of detail in their proposals.
One member of the public asked if a study of the traffic issues involved in transport across busy roads including the A13, A127 and A130 had been undertaken. Ronan Fenton, speaking for the STP claimed that it had, but could not explain what it said or why he had not presented it to the meeting.
Campaigners believe this makes a mockery of ‘consultation’ when the problem of being able to transport seriously ill people across the area is clearly a critical issue. If an appropriate transport service is not delivered then patients will quite simply be at risk and the overall STP plan may fail. It was pointed out that the East of England Ambulance Service were not even represented at the event. We wonder how the public can be asked to give a considered opinion when they were given no evidence to go on?
Despite repeated questions, no concrete proposals were made about who would provide transport or how this could be done safely given that the Ambulance Service is already severely overstretched and struggling to recruit and retain paramedics.
Where are staff to come from?
Health staff and public all asked how the STP could guarantee that new staff with specialist skills can be recruited when there is a crisis in recruitment across the NHS. Speakers simply said that ‘it will be tough’ and ‘it will be a challenge’.
The experience of recent changes to NHS services is that they can have a negative effect on staff. For instance, in the ‘Pathology First’ service, which took microbiology skills away from Southend Hospital, there has recently been a mass resignation of ten staff. This hotly-contested change was also supposed to be a ‘centralisation’ and ‘specialisation’ of health services which has utterly failed to deliver an improvement and which has actually led to the recent scandal over incorrect cervical cancer tests.
‘Pie in the sky’ assumptions
The current proposals will have a massive impact on the shape of NHS services across Mid and South Essex. We were told that without them there would be a catastrophic gap in funding. However, the solutions proposed all depend on plans which have little substance.
There is a crisis in social care, cuts to Public Health budgets and a chronic shortage of GPs but the STP assumes that local government and ‘community’ services will improve social and primary care to keep patients away from A&E in order for the new hospital configuration to work!
Once patients are in hospital, the STP then assumes that ‘bed blocking’ can be dealt with. However we are in a climate where in Southend, a residential care home can be closed in favour of a boutique hotel and where serious consideration has been given to using “Air B’n’B” style services to discharge patients.
We believe it is clear that even where proposals may be welcome, such as the specialist stroke facility to be provided at Basildon, outcomes for patients may be worse unless adequate services are provided locally. The specialists at the meeting were clear that without the ability to assess patients thoroughly 24/7 at a local hospital, all a central facility might mean was that vital life-saving time would be lost in transferring vulnerable stroke patients to Basildon.
The STP’s plans gave no answers on key areas barring vague assurances and the Save Southend NHS campaign queries the realism of the assumptions they laid out.
Campaigners were dismayed to hear senior NHS staff say that any decision would not be ‘democratic’ and that the consultation was not ‘a referendum’. Indeed, when pressed as to why the merger of the three hospital trusts had not been consulted on, we were told that the NHS were consulting on the current STP proposals because they ‘had to’. This gives us no confidence that the STP see the consultation as anything but a ‘tick box’ exercise which does not give the public any real say in what happens to our services.
A spokesperson for the save Southend NHS Campaign commented:
“It seems frankly incredible that a consultation which makes such a big difference to our health services told us almost nothing concrete about how any changes would be achieved.
How dare the STP fail to even provide any evidence about the safety of something as basic as transporting critically-ill patients between hospitals?
Whether it was on staffing, on a transport service, on GP services or on the back up for the proposed specialist stroke unit, the STP just can’t tell us how services will be delivered or how they will achieve improvements for patients while saving vast amounts of money.
The presentation missed out the fact that £30 million a year has to be saved at each hospital and the senior NHS representatives tried to wriggle their way out of admitting that even the £118 million of capital funding they have trumpeted is not actually guaranteed at all!
We have warned all along that these changes are motivated by the need to make huge savings across the local NHS. We are urging people to attend their local consultation events and to ask questions about the impact of the plans, but we are very worried that the public consultation can’t be meaningful in any real way when the plans are so vague and when so much is left unexplained.
We think local councils and MPs need to stand up for their constituents’ interests and demand that that this process is halted. Let’s at least have a consultation based on some real information and with some proper evidence.
We’re worried that if the changes go forward as proposed, they will be a disaster for the NHS that we need and a threat to patient safety.”