Ludlow Hospital Under Attack

The quotes in this article are taken from messages, emails and comments from Ludlow people over the last few days.

On 30th July, Shropshire’s Community NHS Trust confirmed the closure of Stretton ward, one of the last two remaining in-patient wards at Ludlow Hospital.

How dare you go ahead with such a major decision without even consulting the GPs?  And press release a lot of twaddle about “doing it for the benefit of the patients”.  What about future patients who will need beds – what are they to do?

This was a disgraceful decision, taken despite overwhelming opposition – from the GPs at Portcullis Surgery, from the Town Council, from our three local councillors on Shropshire Council, from Ludlow Hospital League of Friends and from Philip Dunne MP. A public petition attracted an astonishing 2666 signatures in a matter of days. The ward closure is a move that reveals astonishing arrogance, and a genuine contempt for local people.

The plans were revealed on 24th July – with the closure of the ward taking place only a week later. The GPs who provide medical care into the hospital were as much in the dark as the rest of us.

People were angry that questions weren’t answered. The higher their pay, the more they can talk for ages saying nothing.

The Trust is no doubt congratulating itself on a job well done. Members of the public were kindly allowed to ask questions at the Trust’s Board meeting on 30th July. The Community Trust’s Chief Executive and Director of Nursing even gave up an evening to attend the packed (and furious) public meeting organised by the Town Council. Individual emails were responded to courteously. But – the highly paid managers who run our community hospitals and our community NHS services failed to consult, were dishonest about what they were doing, and forced through a damaging and dangerous decision against the wishes of the people they are meant to serve. They will not be trusted again.

I repeat, you’re a liar. Now sue if you like.

The ‘smoke and mirrors’ games were grotesque. They couldn’t even work out if they were closing a ward or not! Press releases, statements and emails have been confused and contradictory. First they admitted to ward closure. Then they made a belated and unconvincing pretence that closing a ward isn’t actually closing a ward but just bringing two separate wards into one clinical area. Unsurprisingly, no one believed this one at all. And finally, a statement from the Clinical Commissioning Group accidentally confirmed ward closure all over again…

Sadly, we, the public, have been on the receiving end of too much deception to do other than remain sceptical.

Dishonesty has run through this process like the letters through a stick of rock. “We are not reducing beds” has been the claim, over and over again, ad nauseum. They indulged in a spot of games playing on this one. They reduced the beds a few days before they made the announcement on ward closure. This seems to have been a little trick to pretend that ward closure was not about closing beds – while closing beds anyway. On Monday, their website said Ludlow Hospital has two wards and 40 beds. By Tuesday morning, this had been amended to one ward and 24 beds. Of course, this couldn’t possibly reflect a loss of beds, could it?

Staff were gagged, told not to talk about this. What have the bureaucrats got to hide then?

Does ward closure matter? Yes. Back in 2006 we used to have a three ward hospital in Ludlow, with 60 in-patient beds. Now we have a one ward hospital with 24 beds. This means worse care for patients – fewer beds available for people in need of hospital care; a loss of privacy and dignity as separate sex wards have been massaged into separate areas; and the long-standing loss of more specialist care for patients with dementia. We’ve lost the spare capacity to respond readily to a clinical need for more beds, in the winter, for example, or in response to a flu epidemic.

There’s a hidden agenda to close Ludlow Hospital.

It’s a history of cuts at Ludlow. Whitcliffe ward, for older patients with dementia or mental health problems, was closed back in 2006. The hospital itself was under threat at the time – and was saved only by a vigorous public campaign. In 2012/13, health bosses tried to sell the existing hospital (without telling anyone, and fortunately without success). They were pursuing the failed Eco Park project, but didn’t wait to confirm a new hospital was happening before trying to flog the hospital we already had. Because they insisted we didn’t need Ludlow hospital, it was then given away to a private company called PropCo – the only community hospital in Shropshire that is no longer owned by the NHS. The stupidity of several generations of NHS ‘leaders’ is breath taking.

The quote of the evening was “We’re all concerned about Ludlow Hospital and it’s good to see so many of you here. I was actually due to go out for a meal this evening but I’ve given that up to come down here to talk to you all”. Patronising bastards.

More recently? They say they reduced bed numbers from 40 to 24 in July 2014. Did they? We’re not sure. They certainly didn’t bother consulting with anyone in 2014. We know now that there was some reduction in beds, dressed up at the time as a by-product of ward refurbishment. We also know that 24 beds weren’t enough, and the number of in-patients at Ludlow Hospital has typically been well above that. One of the games that has been played in the last few days is a pretence that any beds in excess of 24 were ‘winter’ beds. Funny, then, that these winter beds were in use until mid-July 2015. Winter has apparently been redefined.

I note that there seems no shortage of money for board meetings which are just self congratulatory exercises and light years away from the patient lying in the bed.

This is a process of running down a valued local hospital – and a hospital that is essential in our rural area. There are likely to be immensely damaging long-term consequences. Under current NHS reform plans called ‘Future Fit’, we are expecting NHS bosses to close the A&E at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, and to close acute beds and services at Shrewsbury. Shropshire patients are meant to trek off to Telford instead. (This is obviously daft, and life threatening in an emergency, and needs to be opposed). The pretence is that we will have ‘care closer to home’ in place of the A&E and hospital at Shrewsbury. The drip-drip of cuts and under-investment at Ludlow makes the hospital less viable going forward. The cuts at the hospital make it less likely that Ludlow will be designated as the site for an ‘Urgent Care Centre’ – a sort of half way house between an A&E and a Minor Injuries Unit. And to add insult to injury, Future Fit is also about closing Minor Injuries Units – that’s yet another blow to Ludlow Hospital and Ludlow people.

The likeliest outcome for Ludlow, unless we get organised and stop it happening? We lose the A&E at Shrewsbury. We lose acute beds and services at Shrewsbury. We lose the Minor Injuries Unit in Ludlow. We’re left with a decaying and declining community hospital – and a couple of years down the line they tell us they will close it. All in the interests of patient safety and high quality care, of course, because that’s what they always say.

I think we are all tired of being treated like country bumpkins.

We can’t let this happen.

We’ve got a fight ahead of us – for Ludlow, and all our community hospitals, and for high quality A&E and acute care in Telford and Shrewsbury alike. Short-term, we’ve got some big problems to deal with in Ludlow. They now claim ward closure is ‘interim’ while they sort out staffing. It’s actually about cutting costs, and the word ‘interim’ is suddenly being bandied about because the level of opposition has taken them by surprise. We’ve asked some sharp questions about what ‘interim’ means and when and how they’ll review this. We’re trying to get at the truth about what beds have existed and when. We will do everything we can to ensure that they go out and recruit staff, instead of quietly forgetting that Ludlow used to have a thriving community hospital. We intend to stay on their backs.

Sign the petition created by Dr Beanland, a GP at Ludlow’s Portcullis Surgery. This is about seeking a future for Ludlow Hospital by designating this as the site of an Urgent Care Centre. The petition is here.

Please sign and share.

This isn’t just an issue for Ludlow. The attack on Ludlow’s community hospital highlights a wider agenda of cuts and disregard for patient needs. This is in the interests of none of us.

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