Shropshire moved a big step closer to A&E closure today. Disgracefully, health bosses in Shropshire CCG signed off a document called the ‘Sustainable Services Strategic Outline Case’ – the blueprint for A&E closure.
There were two sides to the meeting.
One side was magnificent. There were around 100 members of the public, packed into a room that wasn’t big enough, sitting on tables and standing at the back when the chairs ran out. We turned out today – despite the short notice – because we care about the future of our NHS. As defenders of the NHS, we spoke passionately about why we need to keep both our A&Es and both our hospitals. A former A&E nurse talked about the need for the hospital trust to value its staff instead of driving them out. A parish councillor from Clunton described the escalating problems in primary care and community care. A Clun resident described the patient safety disaster at the North Middlesex Hospital in London, where a plan that is virtually identical to Future Fit has resulted in chaos. A speaker from Oswestry asked them to admit Future Fit was nothing more than a cost cutting measure.
Other speakers talked about the dishonesty around funding and the contempt on display for GPs and members of the public; and about a two year child with severe breathing difficulties who survived only because paramedics were able to get him to A&E at Shrewsbury instead of taking him all the way to Telford. Next time, that may not be an option. A final question was from someone with a seizure disorder, a very regular user of A&E services. She asked, through a friend, how they could assure her that she wouldn’t die on her way to hospital if she has further to travel.
The other side to the meeting was downright depressing. The meeting was called at extremely short notice, presumably with the intention of making it hard for members of the public to attend. Most of the meeting was clearly stage managed, with pre-prepared questions and answers. There was virtually no genuine debate. The main solution they proposed to deep cuts in NHS services seemed to be that ‘the community’ will fill all the gaps. It was a disappointing performance to watch, and one that inspired very little confidence in the people running our NHS locally. The attitude of the Chair was also disappointing. His view was that members of the public should know their place and observe silence at all times – at one stage even threatening to close the meeting because people clapped out of turn! Silence was an unrealistic expectation of a roomful of people who care passionately about safeguarding our NHS.
There was no legitimate reason for this meeting to be called, and no excuse for it being an ‘Extraordinary’ meeting of the Board. NHS leaders spun a yarn to the Board that the Strategic Outline Case had to be signed off, because there was an end of June deadline for another document (a Sustainability and Transformation Plan), and if we didn’t use that to apply for our fair share of funding then other areas would be given the money instead. It was a nice story – but made up. It’s a shame that Board members lacked the independence to ask some tough questions on this. The reality is that the ‘end of June’ deadline is now the end of September, and we already know the amount of money that will be given to our area through the Sustainability and Transformation Fund. It’s pitifully small, which is probably why they were too embarrassed to talk about it. It’s extraordinary that it fell to a member of the public to explain to Board members what is actually happening with all this.
The treatment of GPs by the Board was genuinely shocking. The Local Medical Committee, the statutory body representing Shropshire GPs, has expressed huge concerns about Future Fit – that the assumptions in Future Fit are ‘optimistic in the extreme’, that GPs are already over-stretched and can’t take on the work being transferred out of hospitals, and that the Strategic Outline Case is ‘naïve to the point of being dangerous’. They were due to meet with Accountable Officer David Evans in less than a week’s time, to discuss these major concerns. David Evans didn’t trust them to support Future Fit – so he pushed it through before the meeting even took place.
Members of the public stood as Board members voted to close an A&E. One Board member, lay member Will Hutton, voted against. Sadly, the others nodded it through. In a farcical end to the meeting, the Chair swept out in a huff, taking Board members with him, because a member of the public criticised the decision and reminded the Board that the NHS belonged to us not them, and that the fight to defend the NHS would go on.
And that has to be the conclusion. The fight for our NHS will go on, and after today, it will go on with renewed energy and commitment. We have to defend both our A&Es and both our hospitals, of course. There’s a long way to go before they succeed in closing one of the A&Es. We also need to campaign hard for adequate funding for the NHS in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin. Locally, we’re at the start of a process of cutting at least £120 million from health and social care. It’s no wonder they want ‘the community’ to step in, because many services are set to disappear. We’ve got some big battles ahead of us.
We’ll be holding an open activists’ meeting to discuss the next steps in building the campaign for the NHS. If we can arrange a room, this will be in Shrewsbury on Saturday 9th July. Please keep this date free.