I’ve had my eyes opened. The NHS is no longer the NHS. As recently as two days ago, I continued to believe that, at its core, the NHS we knew and loved 20, 30, 40 years ago still existed. I was deluded.
The NHS has been magicked away. Lost beneath a debris of neglect and greed. Many services have been consigned to the sharp box of the business sector – from GP practices, to clinics such as audiology. Haemorrhages in other services (cancer support, end-of-life care) are being staunched by voluntary organisations, often funded partly by the NHS but mainly through charitable giving. While many of us believed that Healthcare Trusts, Council Leaders and Commissioning Clinical Groups (CCG) had our best interests at heart they were stitching us up.
In 1948 Nye Bevan formed the NHS. Free care for all, from the cradle to the grave. He didn’t say that 50 years later it would end at Newcastle and begin again in Edinburgh!!!! Susan Allen, from A Better Hospital for Berwick Facebook page
Yesterday, along with a large crowd of other Berwick residents, I went to a drop-in session laid on by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Northumberland County Council (NCC). On the Council’s website this was billed as an opportunity to be listened to and to ask questions about the proposed new health and leisure facility planned for Berwick.
The local campaign group A Better Hospital for Berwick was formed in response to plans by the three groups above to build a co-located health and leisure facility in Berwick on the site of the current leisure centre. As covered in previous posts, the campaign group’s gripe is not with the investment into healthcare (or leisure), it is with the shrinkage of clinical provision and lack of planning and space for expansion.
Whilst Northumbria Healthcare, the NCC and the CCG claim that the facility will be world class, A Better Hospital for Berwick maintains that, whatever class it is, it will not be fit-for-purpose. That is, it will not return services that, over the years, have been removed from the current Berwick Infirmary – such as adequate Maternity provision and Endoscope facilities. In these circumstances, the group says that the authorities’ promise that ‘all the current services’ will remain is not good enough.
The campaign group say that this evasive phrase, ‘all current services’, will not stop the hours and hours that people spend on the A1 accessing essential hospital facilities; it will not address the loss of the vital Golden Hour to those in acute need of emergency care post stroke/heart attack; it will not address the grim reality of having to travel a round trip of 70 to 160 miles (Hexham hospital) for grim and intrusive procedures or simple pre-meds; it will not address the huge sums of money the NHS spends on taxis and transport of patients; it will not address the fact that 35 miles to the south of Berwick, Alnwick Infirmary has many of the facilities once available in Berwick, but not featured in current plans.
It is worth noting that Alnwick is about 28 miles from the nearest major trauma centre – the Cramlington Hospital – Berwick is 60 miles from the same facility. Whilst no one is advocating that it should be an either/or situation between Berwick and Alnwick, it does seem extraordinary that Berwick should be deprived of services (available in Alnwick) that would save time, money and lives.
The campaign group A Better Hospital for Berwick continues to attract local people from all walks of life and all ages. This fact, coupled with media coverage, has generated various responses from the NCC, the CCG and Northumbria Healthcare Trust. In the last week, they have released a video which they claim answers people’s questions, they have issued a four-page wrap-around PR initiative in the local paper, The Berwick Advertiser, and organised yesterday’s drop in event.
The drop-in was held at a time when most people are at work (10am-1pm) and publicised only by social media and the local paper. The facilities and the staffing were woefully inadequate. The room was cramped and stuffy, the NCC and NHS representatives were not able to answer many questions. The aim of the meeting as far as the NCC and NHS were concerned was made clear in the form we were handed after we had queued to get in:
If you ask loaded questions you will always get an answer you can line up with the decision you’ve already made.
Stephen Holmes of NHS Northumbria Healthcare Community Services (pictured centre below) was asked about clinical provision in the new facility. He replied that ‘the decision on what clinical services will be provided [in the new health/leisure facility] has been taken and is irreversible’. Mr Holmes went on to say that the decision ‘wasn’t consulted on because the NHS is not required to consult.’
I wish I could write a pause for you to retrieve your jaws off the ground. THE NHS IS NOT REQUIRED TO CONSULT. This service that we pay for. That we support. That we cherish. This service has stopped caring about people. It has become a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are moved around with little or no thought given to the impact the arrangement of those pieces will have on people’s lives. Doubly distressing and terrifying is that our elected representatives are complicit in this.
I wrote to Peter Jackson Leader of NCC expressing my concerns about the plans and asking very specific questions. After prompting him, I received a response. He forwarded to me an open letter he had sent to our local councillors which included this:
There have been ongoing issues about access to health services in Berwick since the opening of the new A&E in Cramlington. The decision at that time of siting that facility so far south was made with the assent of the then ruling Liberal Democrat administration at the County Council which did include Berwick Councillors in positions of responsibility for these matters.
No! NO. This is not good enough, Mr Jackson. The facilities at Alnwick Infirmary have not been reduced since Cramlington – we in Berwick are often sent there for pre-meds and endoscopes.
There were plans in place as recently as 2016 (based on the 2013/4 paper) to rebuild Berwick Infirmary and include all the lost clinical facilities, including endoscopies. It is under your watch that this co-located facility, with its emphasis on obesity and so-called lifestyle health issues, has been concocted.
Berwick needs better than this. Berwick needs a better hospital.
And that’s exactly what all those people crammed into that too-small, sweaty space at Swan Leisure Centre will keep saying until we are heard. This isn’t paperwork to be pushed around someone’s desk until they like the way it sits. This is people’s lives and people’s wellbeing.
(c) Jackie Kaines