Fight to save local NHS services at Doddington, Ely and Wisbech

Cllr Martin Field, March Town Council. Picture: Steve Williams.

Cllr Martin Field, March Town Council. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

A packed Town Hall in March for the public meeting about the Future of our NHS in Fenland.

A plea has gone out to save local NHS services

A plea has gone out to save local NHS services - Credit: Archant

The audience were keen to hear speeches from the panel, all experts with experience in local health form the perspective of doctors, unions and Friends and patients.

Dr Margaret Ridley spoke about the change the National Health Service had gone through during her life and career including the pernicious slide towards privatisation particularly since the Health and Social Care Act of 2012.

She said: “The Secretary of State for Health at the time was Andrew Lansley and he had already written a very helpful book entitled “How to Privatise the World”.

In the act he absolved himself of any responsibility to provide a comprehensive health service for all, it just became a duty to promote health.” She went on to explain that “All contracts within the health service, when they come up for renewal, have to be open to competitive tender to whoever wants to bid for them which now includes private, for profit companies.

 Doddington Hospital petition, Picture: Steve Williams.

Doddington Hospital petition, Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

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“The bidding process involves a vast amount of staff time in drawing up the bids and NHS staff are at a disadvantage in all this because they are often competing against multinational companies.”

The supposed idea of doing this is to make the NHS more cost efficient and serve us all better but in fact “The cost of just running the bidding process for the Older Peoples Contract cost Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG over £1 million pounds.

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“The cost of the contract collapsing has cost the CCG £12 million and then in addition there is the cost incurred by the other organisations involved.”

So it doesn’t save money and “The first duty for private, for profit, companies is to make a profit for their shareholders. The largest cost in the health service is staff wages and so in order to make a profit from a NHS contract they inevitably reduce the number of staff, worsen their terms and conditions of service and end up converting a once skilled work force into minimum wage carers.”

Princess of Wales Hospital Ely

Princess of Wales Hospital Ely - Credit: Archant

So it doesn’t provide a better service either.

It is clear that the NHS has gone from being one of the proudest achievements of Britain and a model for the world, to a much depleted, underfunded and demoralised service.

“At the moment only seven per cent of our GDP is spent on the NHS. The UK now ranks 13th out of the 15 original members of the EU as far as health spending is concerned.

France and Germany spend 11 per cent of their GDP on their health service and so have more doctors, nurses and hospital beds.”

North Cambs Hospital entrance

North Cambs Hospital entrance - Credit: Archant

Increasing our spending to those levels would mean another £80 billion per year in our health budgets, but that doesn’t fit with the government’s “austerity” and privatisation programme.

Fears were also raised over the future of Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

It has been in turmoil since it was involved in a disastrous trial of privatisation and now it is under threat of complete closure.

This will send large numbers of its patients towards the other hard stretched hospitals in our area, such as Peterborough, which will only add to pressures on their services and increasing waiting times in A and E.

And now on top of the already stretched finances the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area is being told it must cut its running costs by 13 per cent.

Margaret told us that when she had attended a meeting of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group in Huntingdon last year she was told that “hospitals were draining money out of the NHS and that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough did not have the money to fund three hospitals.”

So it seems hospitals are getting in the way of people trying to make money out of the NHS and so must close.

The second speaker was Jo Rust, regional organiser for UNISON health branches and a seasoned campaigner in fighting to protect jobs and services in the NHS.

She was very clear what the heart of the problem was: “We need to be clear here that in real terms, funding to the NHS has been flat lining for five years and as a percentage of our GDP, has decreased.”

She continued “Fundamentally the real problems stem from the changes made in 2012 with the Health and Social Care Act, the biggest ever top down reorganisation of the NHS.

“This act brought about the removal of NHS structures which, albeit imperfect, were at least delivering what the public expected.” Also “the Act introduced multiple layers of costly bureaucracy which saw local health care money being given to Clinical Commissioning Groups to spend.”

These CCGs were made up mainly of GPs whom we literally trust with our lives but should we trust or expect them to have the skills or experience to manage budgets of millions of pounds and manage the health needs of the whole county.

The Cambridge and Peterborough CCG was recently responsible for the transfer of Adults and Older Peoples services from Cambs.

Community Services to a private provider which was an expensive process and has now expensively failed.

They are the same CCG responsible for decisions over Doddington Wisbech and Ely.

They have managed to get CCS to extend their provision of these services until March next year but many questions need asking about the way it has been handled.

Jo has been assured by them that the provision of services by a single provider is a priority for the CCG but they couldn’t find a provider last time so it is unclear why they are more optimistic in the future.

As Jo said “What we often feel is that these changes are being done to us as opposed to us having any say in the matter.”

This is going to be even more the case now the Sustainability and Transformation Plans are being put in place.

“The STPs allow for no public consultation and side-line both the CCGs and the Trusts, which do have an obligation to consult on changes of service. This is clearly creating a new mechanism to do unpopular things at great speed with no local accountability or consultation.”

STP plans are to be finalised in the summer and implemented from October, whether local people agree or not. These plans, being drawn up behind closed doors will be sent to NHS England by June 2.

What we do know about these is that they’ve got to achieve savings of a massive £240million by 2020.

One of the issues linked to this is the potential for Cambridgeshire to gain devolved powers and with that we’ll see health linked with social care and run alongside local government under the decision making of an elected mayor.

We are going to see more of our services moved out of hospitals to be provided “in the community” at the same time that these community services are being slashed.

For example the intermediate care beds, which allow people to move out of hospitals and free up beds while providing support to patients before they return home to fend for themselves, are all in the sights of the CCG.

Instead people will receive care at home form volunteers and relatives – much cheaper than trained and qualified staff.

So what are the prospects for our services - the closure of intermediate care beds at Doddington, then Ely.

The Xray service being withdrawn at Doddington, threatening future of OPD and Minor Injuries, downgrading of A and E at Hinchingbrooke, where will patients go?

Addenbrookes’ and Peterborough’s A and Es can barely cope at the moment, ambulance service cannot cope with existing journeys - what will happen when they have to take all patients to Cambridge and Peterborough?

So what will happen when the STP leads to downgrading hospitals further? Neither Addenbrookes nor Peterborough can cope with existing admissions let alone additional patients with less money.

Our GP service is in crisis, they and the hospitals cannot get staff which is the long term effect of government under funding and the mishandling of the junior doctors dispute has not helped with many of them now planning to leave the profession, the NHS and even the country.

The final speaker was June Bevis of Friends of Doddington Hospital.

She spoke passionately about the work of the Friends of Doddington Hospital and the loyal service they have shown including the large amount of money raised for equipment over the last 40 years.

They have protested before at the cuts to services, such as when the Iceni ward was closed.

They realise now that this could be the biggest and most important fight of them all.

They also have a concern over where all the equipment they have bought for the service of the people of the area will end up.

Will it be taken into the ownership of some asset-stripping private company?

The Friends of Doddington Hospitals have got a petition going asking to save services at the Hospital.

Another petition is also collecting signatures organised by the North East Cambs Labour Party which is widening the issue to campaign against the whole issue of Privatisation of NHS services and how that is leading to cuts locally.

Speakers were loudly applauded and the floor was opened to questions and people in the audience who shared their own experiences of getting good care from overstretched staff and also on the unavailability of services which had recently been available.

A tactic that was highlighted was that we were told that a service was being temporarily closed but after six months it was closed permanently “because no-one was using it!”

The issue of referrals came up.

It was agreed that we all needed to tell our GPs that we want to be referred to Doddington and the other local services.

This is likely to help the case that there is demand for our services, but we are going to be in a vicious circle situation that people won’t be referred because few services are based there or staff shortages mean long waiting list so you will end up with fewer services and longer waiting lists.

Links were also made to other problems with public services, such as our ever diminishing bus services which make it much harder to access medical services and schools being given away to private Trusts with any discernible improvement of services.

There was only one dissenting voice form the general mood of the evening where the new Conservative Mayor of March, Andrew Donnelly, abruptly, and out of the blue, declared that all NHS staff were incompetent and that was the problem.

It seemed he had not been listening and soon slunk out when he realised that the rest of the packed room praised our dedicated NHS staff and blamed his government’s privatisation of the service on the inability of the NHS to provide the care it would like to.

At the end of the meeting there was a really strong feeling that we needed to continue the fight to save our local NHS and campaign against the continued privatisation of our services.

Members of the audience pledged to collect signatures on the petitions and to write letters to continue the pressure on the CCG and raise awareness amongst the rest of the public.

We also agreed that we would call further meetings which would include members of the CCG, who were not able to attend this time as they were restricted by the purdah rules due to the EU Referendum.

There was even talk of a march. It seems this meeting, organised by the Wisbech, March and District Trades Council, is just the beginning of a growing campaign.

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